“The lockdown has had the effect of blocking the construction process and registration of a new parish in the city of Angren. At the beginning of the year, we had started to collect the necessary documents for the official opening of a new church and a new pastoral unit, but everything stopped because of the pandemic because the administrative offices are closed. We will get back to work as soon as possible. In Uzbekistan, the quarantine will last at least until June 1st. Places of worship are closed and for the time being, there is no news on re-opening them, because, although the number of coronavirus infections is not very high, some new cases continue to be registered every day. Certainly, all this involves difficulties, but let’s try to be patient. We are intensifying prayer so that God can help us stop the epidemic all over the world”. This is what the Apostolic Administrator of Uzbekistan, Franciscan Fr. Jerzy Maculewicz reports to Agenzia Fides.
Social distancing has not slowed down, however, the fervent interreligious dialogue that characterizes the country of Central Asia: “Through the Telegram chat that keeps us religious leaders in touch, on May 14 I asked everyone to join the day of interreligious prayer promoted by the Higher Committee for Human Fraternity. We Catholics have organized the exposition of the Blessed Sacrament, in which many took part from home thanks to the internet”. In fact, at the beginning of the pandemic, Fr. Maculewicz asked the younger priests to look for technological means to keep in touch with the faithful during the time of isolation: “We purchased a video camera in order to guarantee a good quality of filming. We broadcast masses, moments of prayer, and biblical meetings on online platforms. The celebrations are held behind closed doors in Tashkent, but we are happy to know that, thanks to technology, the faithful of other cities also participate”.
The missionary said that in the country of Central Asia the number of infections is about the total number of 3 thousand units, while the reopening is following gradual steps: for some days, some factories and construction companies have resumed activities, while schools, universities, public transport, bars, and restaurants are still closed. The right to education is guaranteed at a distance, thanks to the Internet. Those who are not equipped with computers, use the smartphone, or can follow the lessons broadcast by a national television station.
Currently, the small Uzbek Catholic community, made up of about 3,000 baptized, has a total of 5 parishes throughout the country: to the approximately 700 faithful of Tashkent, there are others in Samarkand, Bukhara, Urgench and Fergana. In Angren, where the new church is to be built, there are 25 faithful.
Out of 30 million inhabitants, the Uzbek population is 90% Muslim. About 3.5% are of Russian Orthodox Christian faith, while another 3% include small Christian communities of other denominations, including Catholics.