Catholics in Kazakhstan join in prayer for victims of unrest
By Lisa Zengarini
Catholics in Kazakhstan joined together in prayer on Monday for the victims of the government’s crackdow on last week’s street protests, in which 160 people were killed.
Local bishops invited all priests to celebrate special Masses for the dead as Kazakhstan held a day of national mourning.
In a video message, Archbishop Tomas Peta of Mary Most Holy in Astana (the capital now named Nur-Sultan, ed.) also invited the faithful to gather in prayer on 13 January for their eternal rest and for peace in the country.
Crackdown on protests
Kazakhstan plunged into unrest early in January following a spike in fuel prices. Protests quickly turned against the government and former President Nursultan Nazarbayev, who led the former Soviet state for three decades and is still believed to have a strong political influence in the country, despite handing over the presidency in 2019.
As street demonstrations degenerated into violent clashes with security forces, Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev declared a state of emergency with a brutal crackdown on protesters and internet shutdowns, and called in troops of the Russian-led Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO).
Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday said their deployment had been crucial in defending Kazakhstan from what he described as a terrorist uprising backed by external forces. According to Kazakh authorities, order has now been largely restored, and almost 10,000 people have been arrested in connection with the protests.
On Tuesday, President Tokayev told Parliament that the CTSO will be withdrawing its troops in two days' time. He also said he was appointing a long-serving career public servant, Alikhan Smailov, as prime minister, and spoke of initiatives to narrow the wealth gap, raise taxes on the mining sector, and eliminate irregularities in state procurement.
Bishops grateful for Pope Francis' support
In this context, the Catholic bishops of Kazakhstan have expressed gratitude to Pope Francis’ for his prayerful thoughts for Kazakhstan.
During the Angelus prayer on Sunday, the Holy Father said he prays for the victims of the protests and their families, and expressed hope that “social harmony will be restored as soon as possible through the search for dialogue, justice and the common good.”
Pope Francis reiterated his call for dialogue in the Caucasus region in his New Year Address to the accredited Ambassadors to the Holy See on 10 January.
Small Catholic minority
Kazakhstan hosts three Catholic dioceses and one apostolic administration of Latin rite, with a total of 70 parishes served by 91 priests.
Catholics represent a small minority, also including a small Eastern rite community. According to the official local data, Catholics count for some 1 percent of the population, most of which is Muslim, with Christians, mostly Orthodox, representing 26 percent of the total.