VATICAN CITY, MAR. 19, 2001 (Zenit.org).- Among the nine bishops ordained here this morning was the leader of Latin-rite Catholics in Kazakhstan, a country where the Church is re-emerging after years of Soviet persecution.
Father Tomasz Peta had been parish priest of the village of Osiornoe since 1990. The village is a community of Ukrainian Catholic exiles deported by Stalin in 1936. Since then, these few thousand Latin-rite Catholics and their children lived in isolation from the world, in the heart of the Kazakh steppes, without the ministry of a priest, the Vatican missionary agency Fides reported.
A priest who was sent to a concentration camp visited the community once after his release. Later, after World War II, another priest occasionally and secretly visited the community.
In 1981, Father Jan Pavel Lenga, the present bishop of Karaganda, combed the area in search of exiled Catholics. Despite the difficulties created by the police, he discovered the community of Osiornoe, which kept the faith intact despite its isolation.
His presence gave hope and dynamism to this community, which at the time of perestroika was given permission to construct a church. In 1990 the community received Father Peta, a Polish missionary.
A year later, Kazakhstan became an independent republic. The country, which borders China and is about four times the size of Texas, has a population of 16.7 million people. In 1995 the church in Osiornoe became Kazakhstan´s shrine dedicated to Mary, Queen of Peace.
Upon seeing the faith of these people, John Paul II decided to give them a bishop as pastor, Father Peta himself.