By Deborah Castellano Lubov
Pope Francis has remembered the Kazakhstan's martyrs who had been persecuted under the former communist regime, and--while recalling the country south of Russia's rejection of nuclear weapons--made a vehement appeal against their use.
He did so during his Wednesday General Audience in St. Peter's Square, dedicating this week's catechesis to his recently-concluded Apostolic Journey to Kazakhstan, for the occasion of the 7th Congress of Leaders of World and Traditional Religions.
During his catechesis, the Pope recalled his 'pilgrimage of peace' to the Central Asian country, dedicated to interreligious dialogue, unity and peace, especially as the world is enveloped by war.
The fruits of faith
The Pope remembered the Church in the country, saying he was "so glad to meet a community of happy, joyful people filled with enthusiasm."
Catholics make up a mere 1 percent of Kazakhstan's population, which is 70 percent Muslim and 25 percent Christian, primarily Russian Orthodox.
The Pope noted that the Catholics' numerical scarcity "invites the development of relationships" with Christians of other denominations, and also of fraternity with all religions.
"So a small flock, yes," he said, "but open, not closed, not defensive, open and trusting in the action of the Holy Spirit, who blows freely where and how He wills."
Martyrs of the faith
The Pope reflected on the Eucharistic Celebration for this small but joyful flock on the Expo 2017 grounds in the Kazakh futuristic capital of Nur-Sultan, noting how apropos it had been to fall on the Feast of the Exultation of the Holy Cross.
The Cross of Christ, our anchor and never-disappointing hope
"In a world in which progress and regression are intertwined," he said, "the Cross of Christ remains the anchor of salvation: a sign of hope that does not disappoint because it is founded on the love of God, merciful and faithful."
The Pope renewed his gratitude to the President of the Republic and the other authorities of Kazakhstan for the cordial welcome they had given him.
Building a world of respecting each other
The Pope praised the initiative of the Congress of Leaders of World and Traditional Religions.
"This initiative has been carried out for 20 years by the authorities of the country, which presents itself to the world as a place of meeting and dialogue, in this case at the religious level, and thus as a leading player in promoting peace and human brotherhood."
Pope Francis lauded its commitment to put religions at the center of efforts "to build a world where we listen to each other and respect each other in diversity."
Credit must be given
The Pontiff remembered the Congress' Final Declaration, which stands in continuity with the Document signed in Abu Dhabi in February 2019 on human fraternity.
"I like to interpret this step forward as the fruit of a journey that starts from afar: I am thinking, of course, of the historic Interfaith Meeting for Peace convened by St. John Paul II in Assisi in 1986; I am thinking of the far-sighted gaze of St. John XXIII and St. Paul VI; and also that of great souls of other religions – I limit myself to recalling Mahatma Gandhi."
Remembering the many martyrs
In addition to the Congress, this trip, he said, gave him the opportunity to meet the authorities of Kazakhstan and the Church living there.
"I emphasized Kazakhstan’s vocation to be a country of encounter: in fact, about one hundred and fifty ethnic groups coexist there and more than eighty languages are spoken. This vocation, which is due to its geographical characteristics and history, has been welcomed and embraced as a path, which deserves to be encouraged and supported."
Kazakhstan's best practices and example - a 'no' to nuclear weapons
This, the Pope said, is an arduous task, which takes time.
Pope Francis concluded by thanking God for the Apostolic Journey, praying for its fruits, and for the life of the pilgrim Church in the country.
Special greetings to Venerable English College
During his remarks to English-speaking pilgrims, Pope Francis gave a special greeting to the new seminarians of the Venerable English College as they begin their priestly formation in Rome, and invoked upon them and their families joy and peace in the Lord.