VATICAN CITY, NOV. 6, 2009 (Zenit.org).- Kazakhstan is one nation that enjoys the peaceful coexistence of faithful from various religions, Benedict XVI and the Kazakhstani president observed today.
The Pope was visited by Nursultan Nazarbayev at the Vatican. The president went on to meet with the Holy Father’s secretary of state, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, and the Vatican secretary for relations with states, Archbishop Dominique Mamberti.
A communiqué from the Vatican press office reported that “attention turned to questions concerning the economic crisis in the light of the encyclical ‘Caritas in Veritate,’ to interreligious dialogue and to the promotion of peace, on the eve of Kazakhstan’s presidency of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.”
The leaders also expressed their mutual satisfaction at good relations between the Central Asian nation and the Holy See.
“Mention was also made of the peaceful coexistence between faithful of various religions, and the hope expressed that believers may have an ever more active role in the life of the nation and in favor of the common good,” the Holy See reported.
Of Kazakhstan’s 15 million inhabitants, about 50% are Muslims, and more than 40% Christians, primarily Orthodox. There are approximately 250,000 Catholics in the country.
The Church in Kazakhstan includes the archdiocese of Astana, two dioceses — Karaganda and Almaty — and the apostolic administration of Atyrau.
Soviet leader Joseph Stalin probably gave the greatest help to the growth of the Church there in the 20th century, when he ordered the deportation of Catholics, especially the clergy, to concentration camps in Central Asia, including some in Kazakhstan.
Stalin’s death brought the release of these prisoners, including Catholic faithful and priests. A number of priests chose to stay in Kazakhstan to help build the Church there.
In the wake of the disintegration of the Soviet Union, Pope John Paul II established new ecclesial structures in Kazakhstan and diplomatic relations with the country in 1994. He visited the country in September 2001.