ASTANA, Kazakhstan, SEPT. 24, 2001 (Zenit.org).- John Paul II today appealed for the proclamation of the love of Christ in Central Asia with the “gentleness of dialogue.”
The Holy Father met in the newly inaugurated cathedral of Astana with priests, men and women religious, and seminarians of several former Soviet republics. He rendered homage to the millions of people who suffered imprisonment and death for their faith, in this land of deportations.
The Pontiff mentioned by name some of the witnesses of the Gospel who were kept in Kazakh concentration camps, which were part of the Gulag Archipelago immortalized by Alexander Solzhenitsyn.
John Paul II cited Father Oleksa Zarytsky, priest and martyr, who died in the gulag of Dolynka; Blessed Budka, a bishop who died in the gulag of Karadzar; and Father Wladyslaw Bukowinski, evangelizer of deportees during the Communist regime.
Some are still alive, such as Father Tadeusz Federowicz, “whom I know personally, and who ´invented´ a new form of pastoral care for deportees,” the Pope said.
The Holy Father also quoted the last words written by clandestine Bishop Alexander Chira, who, after being released from a concentration camp, decided to stay in Kazakhstan, to minister to the small community of Catholic deportees.
His words were: “I consign my body to the earth, my spirit to the Lord, but my heart I give to Rome. Yes, with my final breath I desire to profess my complete fidelity to Christ´s vicar on earth.”
Catholicism, which had virtually disappeared from the Kazakh steppes, rose again secretly thanks to the deportation of German, Ukrainian and Polish believers, among others. Catholics number between 200,000 and 400,000 in this country of 15 million. Muslims comprise more than half the country.
The Alzhir camp near Astana, for example, was one of the worst of the Gulag, reserved for the wives whom Stalin considered “enemies of the people.”
“Now that the political and social climate has been freed from the burden of totalitarian oppression — and let us hope that the state will never again seek to limit the freedom of believers — there is a great need for every disciple of Christ to be the light of the world and the salt of the earth,” the Pontiff said during the homily of the Mass.
“Indeed, this need is all the more urgent because of the spiritual devastation left behind by militant atheism, as well as the dangers present in today´s hedonism and consumerism,” the Holy Father added.
Appealing to Catholics of this country, which has more than 100 ethnic groups and believers of various religions, the Pope encouraged them to combine the “power of witness” with the “gentleness of dialogue.”
“The Church has no wish to impose her own faith on others,” he concluded. “It is clear, however, that this does not exempt the Lord´s disciples from communicating to others the great gift which they have received: life in Christ.”