The Asia of Astana – as it was decided precisely in these days that the capital will be called again – welcomed the Pope of Rome as a brother who understands the weariness and weight of life, in body and spirit.
Nur-Sultan () – The extraordinary trip of Pope Francis to Kazakhstan, in addition to the factors related to the great meeting of religions and the geopolitical importance of this territory, also drew attention to another aspect, related to his personal suffering. It is not new that for months the pontiff has been limited in his movements due to severe pain in his joints, but it is certainly surprising that he wanted to go in these conditions to a land so far away not only geographically – Canada was still plus-. but above all for its historical-cultural components.
Francis’s sufferings, on the other hand, are not only physical, but are accentuated by the interior suffering caused by the conflicts and adversities of the time we live in and the Pope does not fail to remind him at every opportunity, invoking a common commitment to build the peace. In this sense, he is increasingly closer to the figure of his holy predecessor, John Paul II, who traveled to Kazakhstan after the attack on the Twin Towers in New York and asked everyone to unite so as not to succumb to the temptation of permanent war. The Polish pope was already bent and ill – and died a few years later – but, like Francis, he showed incredible spiritual strength.
The conditions of weakness of the pope have further highlighted a characteristic of the Kazakh people, which is similar to other Asians in all aspects, but with a special ability to smile and welcome with warmth and sincerity. The Kazakhs are cheerful and friendly, proud of their ability to dialogue with everyone, educated by an ancient and modern history of uncertainty and suffering, but also of friendship and hospitality. The Asia of Astana – as it has been decided to rename the capital – has expressed its love for the Pope of Rome as a brother who understands the weariness and weight of life, in body and spirit.
Instead of the patriarch of Moscow, who was not willing to listen to voices that were not consonant with his proclamations of holy war, the Moscow delegation was headed by Metropolitan Antonij of Volokolamsk and tried to keep a low profile, expressing its adherence to the wishes and Francis’ hopes for peace. The local Metropolitan, Aleksandr, also stayed away from the Congress of Religions, coming to bless the relics of the warrior monks in Almaty, and all the other Orthodox tried to at least appear no more threatening than the many muftis and imams who, for On the contrary, they fervently supported the Pope’s intentions.
Many smiling faces surrounded the pontiff in the less formal meetings with Catholics on the last day of the visit. After morning mass with a small group of priests and nuns, Francis met with his Jesuit brothers at the nunciature. The eleven priests of the Jesuit mission in Kyrgyzstan were present, headed by the apostolic administrator, the American Anthony Corcoran; there were some young people and some older ones who had been working on these lands for many years, even before the end of the USSR, when there was already a small group of Jesuits who were forced to move in the Soviet semi-secrecy.
Even more festive was the reception at the Cathedral of the Mother of God of Perpetual Help, where Francis was able to talk with members of the local Church. The three Kazakh dioceses have different and often difficult to harmonize approaches: Astana, is headed by the pious Polish Bishop Tomasz Peta, who came to this land already before the dissolution of the Soviet empire and relies on the theological and liturgical rigor of the auxiliary bishop , Athanasius Schneider, highly cultured German of Kyrgyz origin.
Very different is the great benevolence and magnanimity of the Spanish Archbishop of Almaty, Monsignor José Luis Mumbiela Sierra, who is also referred to by some marginalized priests and laity of Astana, and in the middle is the committed pastoral attention of the Italian Bishop of Karaganda, Fr. Adelio dell’Oro, who arrived in 1997 with the group of missionaries formed for the Russian lands by Fr. Luigi Giussani, tries to maintain a balance between the severe north and the smiling south of local Catholicism.
Contradictions are not lacking in this great Eurasian middle land, even in the life of the small local Catholic Church that venerates the Queen of Peace in a special way: “May the Virgin melt the ice of hearts”, Pope Francis wished, and he was evidently heard from above: before his arrival an almost winter frost had fallen and during his visit the sun shone again.