The First Basilica in Kazakhstan

‘Here the roots of the Church that went through Soviet repression’

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“The title of minor basilica granted to the church of St. Joseph in Karaganda is a very important recognition for the Catholics of Kazakhstan. It is a real Sanctuary: many go there on pilgrimage because inside there are the relics of the priest martyr of communism Vladislav Bukovinskyin. Furthermore, the roots of the Kazakh Catholic presence during the decades of Soviet repression, when it was not possible to profess, are found here. It is a unique church, because it is one of the first officially registered in Kazakhstan, in 1977. On June 29, 1980, Bishop Alexander Khira solemnly consecrated it. For this reason, on the occasion of the fortieth anniversary of the consecration, I asked for the granting of the title of minor Basilica, and Pope Francis accepted our request”.

This is what Msgr. Adelio Dell’Oro, Bishop of Karaganda told Agenzia Fides, who in recent days received – and read publicly during a Eucharistic celebration – the decree of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments. It is the first church recognized as a Basilica in the country of Central Asia.

The origins of the church of St Joseph date back to the period following Stalin’s death: in 1953 some priests freed from concentration camps reached the city of Karaganda. “Among them, Father Wladislav Bukowinsky, Greek-Catholic Bishop Alexander Khira, Father Alexander Staub, Father Alexiy Zaritsy, Father Albinas Dumblyauskas, and others. All these priests baptized, confessed, celebrated Holy Mass, and marriages clandestinely. People came to them from distant regions to receive the Holy Sacraments. There were also many believing women: Gertrude and Valentina Detzel, Maria Becker, Thea Balter, Flora Stivikh, and many others who, despite the cruel persecutions, were engaged in catechesis for adults, children, and adolescents, who were preparing for First Communion and other Sacraments”, says Msgr. Dell’Oro.

According to the Bishop, thanks to the perseverance of many Catholics, on January 28, 1977, permission was granted to register the parish of the Roman Catholic community of Karaganda. A “zemlianka” was purchased, ie an underground house-refuge. On March 19, 1977, the feast of St. Joseph, Holy Mass was officially celebrated for the first time. The foundations of the future church were laid in November of the same year. “Everyone took part in the construction of the temple, which began in the spring of 1978, from the youngest to the oldest, including invalids and sick people, and already on September 8 the first Mass was celebrated in the newly built church of St. Joseph in Karaganda” recalls the relate. On June 29, 1980, Bishop Alexander Khira solemnly consecrated it.

“The assignment of the title of minor Basilica is intended to strengthen the bond of this church with the bishop of Rome and to highlight its importance in the territory of Kazakhstan. This is externally recognizable by the pontifical insignia on the entrance door and inside the church”, the Bishop explains to Fides. To emphasize the unity with the Roman Chair of Peter, various feasts will be celebrated every year in the Kazakh Basilica, such as the Solemnity of the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul (29 June) and the anniversary of the election of the Roman Pontiff (13 March 2013 ). The faithful will be able to profit from the plenary indulgence on those dates and, once a year, even on a day freely chosen.

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