“Kazakhstan, you are the land of a meeting, you are a bridge between Asia and Europe, between people of different nationalities and religions.”
These and other similar words spoken in Astana fourteen years ago by Pope John Paul II still resonate in our hearts.
On the one hand, the Pope had presented to the world a model of relations between different ethnicities and denominations in our country. On the other hand, he urged us to keep going further, saying, “Kazakhstan, you have a mission to be a bridge.”
During his visit, John Paul II was praying for Kazakhstan and blessed it. Blessing Kazakhstan, the Pope said, “We stand before you in a special minute of mankind’s history, at the beginning of the third millennium, when humanity has a desire to be one family, but, it nevertheless remains divided, wounded by many conflicts and wars. We stand in a special place on Earth – in the centre of Eurasian continent, in a place where representatives of many nationalities and religions live next to each other.”
One can guess that the papal ideas might have encouraged our President Nursultan Nazarbayev to initiate holding the Congress of Leaders of World and Traditional Religions in 2003 in Astana and then the following ones. On the eve of the First Congress the Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Angelo Sodano spoke in Astana: “Let the Spirit of Assisi be the spirit of Astana” [referring to the first great interreligious meeting in history, i.e. the World Day of Prayer for Peace in Assisi, Italy, on Oct. 27, 1986].
Now, we are looking forward to the fifth congress, which Astana will host on June 10-11.
The Palace of Peace and Harmony in Astana is a witness to the fact that the Kazakh capital has really turned into an important meeting place.
I think that the very fact of the meeting of representatives of all world religions is a major achievement of the Astana congresses. From meetings are born acquaintances, mutual understanding, new ideas, friendship, desire to cooperate in a spirit of truth and love. If there are no meetings, visible or invisible walls between people begin to grow. Therefore, the Astana meeting is an important element in building trust and hope in contemporary world.
In August 2007, by the invitation of the Father General of the Order of Conventual Franciscans the ecclesiastics of Kazakhstan, representatives of Islam, Orthodoxy, Catholicism, and Lutheranism visited the Vatican and Italy. Welcoming us at Castel Gandolfo, Pope Benedict XVI called the visit a “sign of hope” and noted “dialogue must always take place in truth and love.” It was another meeting “in the spirit of Assisi and Astana.”
We thank God for the gift of peace in Kazakhstan. With gratitude, we think about sound policy of leaders of our country led by our President, policies aimed at cooperation and accord between all people of Kazakhstan, regardless of their ethnicity and religion. We are pleased to witness the strong will of the Kazakh people and of all ethnic groups living in our country to live and work in peace.
The role of religious communities in the provision of public consent is very important, as belief in God forms the conscience of a man. Religion is not just a collection of traditions. Above all, it is a human meeting with the God, the action of God in the human heart and of human life. A person fortified by God, can take responsibility for his or her life, the lives of families and country. Even in the midst of difficulties, a believer can remember that he is in God’s hands and not lose hope.
Thus, the community of believers help their members to be people of conscience, as conscience is the main guardian of public peace and order.
Thank God that in our country we have freedom of religion and conscience. In this way, the conditions exist for everyone to seek God, to become a person of conscience.
The development of spiritual beginning, which accompanies material development, testifies to the full development of our society. Since the bird cannot fly using only one wing, and one cannot build a happy life, relying only on material goods: “Not by bread alone doth man live.” Our two wings are spiritual and material benefits, prayer and labour.
The beauty of Kazakhstan is manifested in the beauty of nature and buildings but even more in beautiful families where there is love, respect for the elderly, the disabled and all those suffering, respect for every person, including those who still reside under the mother’s heart.
The Catholics of Kazakhstan represent a modest group of people scattered throughout the country, and they are trying to contribute to the spiritual and material development of our beloved Kazakhstan.
In the village of Ozernoye in the North Kazakhstan Oblast, which is the spiritual centre for the Catholics of Kazakhstan, there is an altar, “The Star of Kazakhstan,” sitting in the temple of Queen of Peace. It is there that through adoration of the Blessed Sacrament the daily prayer is delivered for the benefit of our homeland and peace in the world. Twelve kilometres away from Ozernoye, at the hill of Akhymbettau (“The Volyn hill”) there is a cross, a monument to all the innocent victims of repression times. The inscription on the pedestal of the monument proclaims in four languages (Kazakh, Russian, German and Polish) the following words:
Glory to God
Peace to People
The Kingdom of Heaven to Martyrs
Gratitude to the Kazakhstan people
Prosperity to Kazakhstan.
With these words, we ask the Almighty to let Kazakhstan, under the leadership of our respected President, to continue on the path of peace and harmony, and serve as an example to all nations that the path of peace can achieve a lot, but the path of war brings loss of everything.
We are confident that the Congress of Leaders of World and Traditional Religions in Astana will become permanent and the capital of Kazakhstan, situated in the heart of the Eurasian continent, will illuminate more and more the light of hope and peace in the search for truth, kindness and beauty.
The author is Roman Catholic Archbishop of the Metropolitan Archdiocese of Saint Mary in the city of Astana.