Even Non-Catholic Kazakhs Await John Paul II

Republic Anxious for Visit, Says Organizer

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ASTANA, Kazakhstan, AUG. 2, 2001 (ZENIT.orgFides).- Kazakhstan is awaiting John Paul II with open arms.

The Pope´s scheduled Sept. 22-25 visit to this central Asia republic northwest of China is generating interest and enthusiasm that cuts across ethnic and religious boundary lines, says an organizer.

«Even before the Holy See´s official announcement regarding John Paul II´s pastoral visit, we met with almost total readiness on the part of the government and Kazakh society in general,» Italian Father Edoardo Canetta told the Vatican agency Fides.

Father Canetta, a Fidei Donum priest from the Archdiocese of Milan, has been in this republic for seven years. He is a member of the welcoming committee for the papal visit.

«We have seen tangible signs of lively interest, even enthusiasm, on the part of local Lutherans, Baptists and other Protestant communities,» Father Canetta said. «The grand mufti, spiritual leader of Muslims in Kazakhstan, is showing keen interest, even coming up with constructive proposals.»

With the Pope´s recent visit to Ukraine in mind, the Orthodox Church in Kazakhstan has manifested no negative reactions, the Italian priest said. With few exceptions, relations between Catholics and Orthodox have been positive here, he added.

Local Catholics believe the Pope´s visit will be an extraordinary opportunity for encounter between religions and for evangelization.

The Holy Father is scheduled to arrive in the capital, Astana, on Sept. 22. On Sept. 25 he flies to Armenia for a two-day pastoral visit, before returning to Rome the evening of Sept. 27.

Ethnic Kazakhs make up about half of Kazakhstan´s 15.5 million people; 30% are Russians; the rest come from a hundred other backgrounds. There are 180,000 officially registered Catholics, though the real numbers may be higher.

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