The archbishop of Astana, also named Alexy, has very good relations with the Catholic episcopate. Last year he was on the point of meeting the Pope in Rome. His hopes were dashed at the last minute by Patriarch Alexy II, who impeded the visit.

By chance, the Orthodox archbishop of Astana is in the hospital, so the second in authority, a young, timid, and gentle Father Afaganguel, will meet with the Holy Father.

"I am very happy with the Pope´s arrival in Astana, and with the possibility of sharing this joy with Catholic brothers," the priest said.

Father Afaganguel hopes to shake the Pope´s hand during the meeting next Monday with cultural leaders.

Asked about the Moscow patriarch´s possible veto of the papal event, Father Afaganguel said, "For the time being, he hasn´t said anything against the Pope´s visit to Kazakhstan, as opposed to what happened in Ukraine."

Asked about Catholic-Orthodox relations in Kazakhstan, Father Afaganguel led a visitor up a spiral staircase in the rear of the Church of St. Constantine and St. Helena, to a secret corridor that leads to a small chapel.

"Here is where my predecessor would secretly hear the confessions of Catholics, who in the Soviet era did not have a chapel or a priest," Father Afaganguel explained.

Asked what he would tell his parishioners who want to participate in the Pope´s visit, the Orthodox priest answered: "There is no problem, they have the freedom to go."