On his final day in Kazakhstan, Pope Francis visited Our Lade of Perpetual Help Cathedral, for a touching meeting with the small Kazakh Catholic community.
Upon exiting his Fiat 500, a group of musicians was waiting for him at the entrance. They played songs on the dombra, a local instrument the Pope referenced in one of his speeches.
Once inside the cathedral, the Pope blessed a special icon, “Our Lady of the Grand Steppe,” depicting Mary as a native Kazakh and which Catholics credit for saving their lives after being deported from the Soviet Union and fearing starvation. Kazakhstan was the Soviet regime’s primary deportation destination.
To the country’s small Catholic community, formed in large part by foreigners, the Pope highlighted three ideas: Firstly, that no one in the Church is a foreigner. Secondly, the value of communities retaining their memory of the past.
Let us be careful, this does not mean looking back with nostalgia, getting stuck on things of the past and becoming paralyzed by immobility, this is the temptation of backwardness. The Christian gaze, when it looks back to remember, wants to open us to wonder before the mystery of God.
The Pope explained that when Christians look to the past, it should be to recognize the help one has received from others and God. That way, one looks at the past filled with hope and strength to face the future with creativity.
When we lose our memory, our joy is depleted. We recognize God and our brothers and sisters less, because we fall in the temptation to think that everything depends on us.
The third idea Pope Francis shared was that the Christian Faith is alive, and is transmitted better through lived experience than words. He said this is especially true in small communities like the one in Kazakhstan.
To be small reminds us that we are not self-sufficient. We need God, but also others, brothers and sisters from other confessions.
It is the special task of the Church in this country: to not be a group that is dragged into how things are always done, and that closes itself in a shell because it feels small, but a community that is open to God’s future.
The applause from the crowd seemed to show that the Pope’s message resonated with those present. They were bishops, consecrated religious, priests, seminarians, and other members of the Church.
The Catholic community in Kazakhstan is small, and formed by people of different rites of distinct cultural communities. Some are from Eastern-rite Catholics, such as the Ukrainian wife of a Greek-Catholic priest who shared her story with the Pope. There are also many foreigners from outside of Kazakhstan, and who belong to different groups with the Latin-rite.