“When I arrived in Turkmenistan, 22 years ago, there were no Catholic faithful. Over time, I saw a community rise before my eyes. Being a witness of this birth was a great grace of God because it means having participated in difficult labor but full of hope: we live the experience of the Apostolic Church, which starts from scratch and is based on the strength of the Word of God”. This is what Fr. Andrzej Madej, Polish priest of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate (OMI) and Superior of the Missio sui iuris of Turkmenistan told Fides News Agency, reported March 16, 2019.
In Turkmenistan, the Church is currently made up of 2 priests and about 250 faithful: “During the domination of the Soviet Union, Catholics came to Turkmen land from countries such as Poland, Russia, Ukraine and considered faith their biggest value. They paid a great price to protect it from the imposition of scientific atheism. But today there is a difficulty in passing it down to their children. The paradox is that it is more difficult to impart faith in freedom than in repression. Despite this, our community, albeit slowly, continues to grow: if we first baptized only adults, this sacrament is also recently received by children”, explains Fr. Madej.
In this context, the small Turkmen community grows by basing its journey on the Word of God. “Our faithful like reading the Gospel. We have biblical groups that meet to read the Word of God both in the chapel and in houses. In addition to the biblical group, we celebrate the Eucharist in Russian every day and also in English on Sundays for foreigners”, says the missionary. In recent times, there is a growing need to learn Turkmen: “If the knowledge of Russian was enough so far, today those who come from the old Soviet villages do not know this language. For this reason, in July 2019 a third priest should arrive in the country (always a member of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate) who, throughout his first year of stay, will dedicate himself only to studying Turkmen”.
Fr. Madej has been serving in Turkmenistan since 1997 when John Paul II established the Missio sui iuris. For thirteen years, the presence of the Oblates was admitted only as a representation of the Vatican Embassy: in the beginning, we met in private homes and Mass was celebrated in the diplomatic territory of the Apostolic Nunciature of Ashgabat. In 2010 the Turkmen government officially recognized the Catholic presence. The Turkmen Catholic community meets in the chapel of the Transfiguration of the Lord, in the capital Ashgabat. Turkmenistan has 5 million inhabitants, 90% are Muslims.