VATICAN CITY, JULY 9, 2012 (Zenit.org).- The Vatican announced today that Benedict XVI appointed Cardinal Angelo Sodano, dean of the College of Cardinals, as the pontifical legate to the consecration of the cathedral of the Diocese of Karaganda, Kazakhstan.
The cathedral will be consecrated Sept. 9.
Karaganda was elevated to a diocese in 1999. It has some 40,000 Catholics, served by just over a dozen priests. Forty-seven-year-old Bishop Janusz Kaleta, a native of Poland, is the bishop of the diocese.
In a pastoral letter in April, the bishops of Kazakhstan wrote of the history of the cathedral and the diocese, explaining that during the Soviet era, the city of Karaganda and the surrounding region, “earned for itself hideous notoriety as being a place of repression and banishment for anyone and everyone, of whatever nationality, ethnic group or religious denomination, who dared to challenge atheistic materialism. It was known at that time under the code-name of ‘KARLAG,’ an anagram made up from the two words: KARaganda and LAGer.”
The Karaganda Concentration Camps covered an area as big as France and was “one of the largest, one [of] the most important and notorious of all Soviet concentration camps under Stalin’s dictatorship.”
“[I]t is fair to say that soil of Kazakhstan has in no other place been so thoroughly soaked in the blood and tears of more innocent victims of Communist repression than here in Karaganda,” the bishops added. “On his first visit to Karaganda, the Patriarch of All the Russias, His Excellency Alexis II, stated that this city is like a huge ‘antimins’ or altar-veil spread reverently over the mortal remains of all the martyrs who lie here.”
The bishops noted three priests who died there, now in the process of canonization.
They also recalled that in 1980, a bishop for the first time in six centuries celebrated the liturgy publicly “on the soil of Kazakhstan, robed in his Episcopal vestments and holding his crozier. The Bishop in question was Monsignor Alexander Khira. The last bishop before him, when the Episcopal seat was at Almaty, was a man named Monsignor Richard of Burgundy, who died a martyr’s death about the year 1340.”
The first Catholic bishop of Karaganda, John-Paul Lenga, wanted to construct a new cathedral to be “an epitaph to the memory of all the victims of the Karlag and be a place of prayer and expiation for the countless crimes perpetrated by a totalitarian and godless regime in Karaganda and Kazakhstan against Jesus Christ and against human dignity. Apart from that, the new Cathedral was intended to be a visible profession of Catholic faith and an instrument of evangelization, with the emphasis on ‘evangelization through stone, through beauty and through culture,'” the bishops continued.
The cathedral is dedicated to Our Lady of Fatima, as Mary at Fatima asked for prayer for the conversion of Russia: “Considering the fact that one of its main aims was to act as a monument to the memory of the victims of the Communist regime and as a symbol of expiation for crimes of the latter, it was more than fitting, from the spiritual point of view, that the new Cathedral be placed under the patronage of Our Lady of Fatima,” the bishops observed.
Kazakhstan is mostly Muslim (47%) and Russian Orthodox (44%).
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On the Net:
Full text of pastoral letter: www.catholic-kazakhstan.org/Karag/En/index.htm