Nuncio in Central Asia Sees Reasons for Hope

Says Constitution in Uzbekistan Guards Religious Rights

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TASHKENT, Uzbekistan, SEPT. 21, 2005 (Zenit.org).- Things are looking up for the Church in Central Asia, says a papal nuncio.

«There are all the necessary conditions for Catholics to live in peace and for the Catholic Church to develop in the Central Asia,» said Archbishop Jozef Wesolowski, 57, the apostolic nuncio for Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan.

«The rights of religious minorities are protected by the [Uzbek] constitution. There are no obstacles to professing one’s faith and to building churches,» the Kazakhstan-based nuncio spoke during a visit to Tashkent last week.

During his visit to the Uzbek capital, he and Uzbekistan’s first bishop, Apostolic Administrator Jerzy Maculewicz, 50, met with the Foreign Minister and the Committee for Religious Affairs.

The archbishop used the occasion to thank Uzbek authorities for sending an official delegation to the funeral of Pope John Paul II, for Bishop Maculewicz’s ordination in Rome last May, and for his installation in Tashkent in June.

«The fact that the Catholics of Uzbekistan now have their own bishop is a great honor not only for them, but for the whole country,» said Archbishop Wesolowski. «It shows the country’s stability and the absence of any obstacles on the path of the Catholic Church.»

’88 pact

The archbishop mentioned the importance of a 1998 agreement between Vatican and Kazakhstan and insisted that interfaith relations are good in Central Asia, stressing that in Kazakhstan they are favored by regular meetings between the Department of Religious Affairs and representatives of various religions.

The representative of the Holy See also stressed that Catholic charity organizations are involved in social activities, not proselytizing; one example, for instance, was his own visit to a prison in the Kazakh city of Petropavsovsk.

Archbishop Wesolowski noted that Protestant communities still face important obstacles. The Uzbek government has so far refused to recognize them, preventing Protestant denominations the right to carry out their mission and denying Protestants the right to meet for prayers.

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