VATICAN CITY, JUNE 7, 2006 (Zenit.org).- The Catholic Church now has two new bishops In the former Soviet republics of Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan.
Cardinal Angelo Sodano, Vatican secretary of state, presided over the episcopal ordinations Friday in St. Peter’s Basilica.
The new prelates are Bishop Nikolaus Messmer, 51, apostolic administrator of Kyrgyzstan, and Auxiliary Bishop Athanasius Schneider, 45, of Karaganda, Kazakhstan.
Kyrgyzstan has 5,000 Catholics in a population of 5 million. Kazakhstan has 40,000 Catholics in a population of 15 million.
“With the arrival of the two new prelates,” said Cardinal Sodano in the homily he delivered in Italian, Russian and German, “those communities will be fortified and able to continue offering their evangelical testimony in the contemporary reality.”
Bishop Messmer is being sent to Bishkek, capital of Kyrgyzstan, as guide of a new apostolic administration, in a country where Jesuits have worked for years.
Born on Dec. 19, 1954, in Karaganda, he was ordained a priest in the Society of Jesus. In 2004 he obtained a licentiate in spirituality from the Gregorian University. He has been parish priest in Bishkek and later was superior of the minor seminary of the Diocese of the Transfiguration in Novosibirsk, in the Russian Federation.
Emigrant to Germany
Auxiliary Bishop Schneider will assist Bishop Jan Pawel Lenga of Karaganda in his ministry. The latter was one of the two co-consecrating prelates, along with Archbishop Jozef Wesolowski, apostolic nuncio in Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan.
Athanasius Schneider was born in Tokmak, Kyrgyzstan, of German parents, who later emigrated to Rottweil, Germany. In 1982 he entered the Order of Canons Regular of the Holy Cross in Austria.
He studied philosophy at the University of St. Thomas Aquinas (the Angelicum) in Rome, and theology at the Sapientiae Institute of Anapolis, Brazil. Ordained a priest in March 1990, he obtained a doctorate in patristic theology in 1997. Until now he was spiritual director in the seminary and chancellor of the diocesan curia of Karaganda.
Members of the two new bishops’ families attended the ceremony in St. Peter’s.
Three brothers of Bishop Messmer, who are Jesuits, concelebrated Mass with him, as did another brother, who is a diocesan priest. Also present were three of his sisters, who are nuns, and his mother, a widow, who has consecrated herself to God.
Bishop Schneider was accompanied by two of his sisters, one of whom is a Poor Clare nun.