Domestic Chapels Still Fill a Need in Kazakhstan

First Arose During Years of Communist Persecution

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KARAGANDA, Kazakhstan, OCT. 28, 2005 ( Amid the scarcity of priests and the difficulty in building new churches, Kazakhstani Catholics rely on a tried-and-true remedy to maintain Eucharistic worship.

That remedy is the «domestic chapel,» a phenomenon that arose in the years of Communist-imposed atheism.

During the Soviet regime, Catholics in this sprawling Central Asian republic endured harsh persecution. Kazakhstan was used by Moscow as a land of deportation.

Today, Catholics have minority status, numbering only 360,000 in a population of 17 million.

The Kazakhstani faithful lived the Year of the Eucharist «as a call to feel united with the universal Church and as an invitation to a renewed Eucharistic life,» said Archbishop Jan Pawel Lenga of Karaganda, who participated in the recent Synod of Bishops on the Eucharist, in Rome.

His diocese, the size of Italy, has only 16 priests for 40,000 Catholics, 1.2% of the more than 3 million inhabitants of the region.

The scarcity of priests has, in fact, strengthened in the country’s Catholic Church the practice of domestic chapels, born under the Soviet regime, when the clergy had to be inconspicuous, according to a report in the Italian newspaper Avvenire.

Small rooms were used in the homes of «babushke,» women known for their piety and devotion. The consecrated Hosts were kept there. The priest celebrated Mass clandestinely, administered the sacrament of reconciliation to the faithful and formed them in doctrine. This initiative continues.

«Also in our days,» explained the 55-year-old Archbishop Lenga, «these chapels are very important for people because there, where the priest can still come, there is the possibility for all the faithful to also gather before the presence of the Eucharist, which is kept in homes where there is no danger of robbery or profanation.»

There are about 20 domestic chapels, some the same as in the times of the Soviet Union.

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