“The Catholic Church in Kyrgyzstan has been rooted for a very long time, but has undergone great changes throughout history: present in the country for at least 150 years, the Catholic community was traditionally made up of German, Polish or Ukrainian citizens, and for decades these people lived underground under the persecution of the Soviet regime. Despite this faith has survived.” This is what Mgr. Anthony Corcoran, Texan Jesuit and Apostolic Administrator of Kyrgyzstan said in a Fides News Agency story on March 6, 2019.
“I remember that when I arrived in this country, I asked people what their faith meant to them, they gave me different, very simple answers, they knew the essential things of Jesus, who was born poor, who did miracles. They were very close to the sign of the cross. Almost all of them replied that being Catholic presented a relationship with one’s family, with the faith of one’s grandparents, but almost none of them had ever seen a priest. Today we try to guarantee spiritual, pastoral and sacramental accompaniment to these people,” explained the Jesuit.
The legacy of a “faith delivered by grandparents” had to deal with the great migratory phenomenon, following the fall of the Soviet regime. Mgr. Corcoran said: “Between 1990 and 2000, many Catholics left. Their grandchildren remained: at the moment we think we have between 600 and 1,500 Catholics scattered throughout the country. Given the small number of the faithful, probably most of the Kyrgyz people do not know the Catholic Church. Many link it to the deportees of Germany, and they call us as ‘German Church’. But those who know us have a lot of respect because they connect us to the works of mercy: years ago, during the civil war, Catholics helped people regardless of their ethnicity, so they are seen as those who help others regardless of their beliefs.”
Today Kyrgyzstan is a small country with a population of almost 6 million: “Of these, 87-90 percent of the population consider themselves Muslim. The Orthodox represent 8-11 percent of the total, and the other Christian confessions are a very small minority. Despite this, we work freely, because there is a lot of religious tolerance. Obviously, everything depends on people’s mentality: some are more open to receiving, others less. An event that greatly impressed this part of the world was the Pope’s trip to the United Arab Emirates because he had media coverage and was considered a sign of great respect by the Church towards Islam.”
There are currently three parishes in Kyrgyzstan in the cities of Bishkek, Jalal-Aba, and Talas, but many small communities are distributed in rural areas of the country. Local Catholics can count on the spiritual assistance of seven priests, one religious and five Franciscan nuns.