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Turkmenistan: Promoting Dialogue Between Christians and Muslims

‘To dialogue, share, witness, are all attitudes that bear fruit’

“To dialogue, share, witness, are all attitudes that bear fruit. Conflicts do not help, we must instead work on common points. This is what I learned in my 25 years in a post-Soviet and Muslim majority environment,” according to Fr. Andrzej Madej, Polish priest of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate (OMI) and Superior of the Missio sui iuris of Turkmenistan.  Fides News Agency reported his comments on March 7, 2019.

The Oblate emphasized the relationship between Islam and Christianity: “Islam recognizes Jesus as a prophet: this represents a fertile ground for dialogue and to start bearing witness to what Christ is for us, the Son of God, the Savior. Then there are other aspects. During the Kurban Bairan festival, for example, Muslims celebrate the offering of Abraham’s sacrifice. And even Mary represents an important ‘ecumenical bridge’, since they recognize her as the mother of the prophet. We have in common the faith in one God, the pilgrimage to sacred places, fasting, mercy towards the poor and prayer. The space in which we can create a climate of dialogue and sharing is vast.”

Fr. Madej explained: “We experience all of this in our daily mission in Turkmenistan. When a person of Islamic faith comes to visit us and enters our chapel, we can see that he always has great respect for the sacred, for the mysterious and holy God. We return this attitude when we participate in Islamic festivals. Furthermore, when we visit the faithful who live in other cities, we often take the opportunity to visit local Islamic leaders.”

The Superior of the Missio sui iuris said that the inhabitants of Central Asia were “struck by the visit of Pope Francis to the United Arab Emirates and the fact that he will soon go to Morocco, just as John Paul II did. Seeing Peter’s successor who goes to these areas, among Muslims is a testimony that brings us benefits.”

Turkmenistan has a population of 5 million, 90 percent Muslim. The Turkmen Catholic community consists of two Oblate priests of Mary Immaculate and about 250 faithful, who gather in the chapel of the Transfiguration of the Lord, in the capital Ashgabat. The local Catholic church was reborn n 1997, when John Paul II established the Missio sui iuris. For thirteen years, the presence of the Oblates was admitted only as “representative of the Vatican Embassy”. At the beginning we met in private houses and mass was celebrated in the diplomatic territory of the Apostolic Nunciature of Ashgabat. In 2010 the Turkmen government officially recognized the Catholic presence.

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