The official opening of the first plenary session of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Central Asia took place on April 27. The solemn event was attended by its members – the bishops and ordinaries of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, Azerbaijan and Mongolia; the apostolic nuncios and bishops who arrived as guests, as well as the Chairman of the Senate of the Parliament of the Republic of Kazakhstan Maulen Ashimbaev, and the Minister of Information and Social Development of the Republic of Kazakhstan Askar Umarov.
After the welcoming speech, in which the hierarchs were called to strive together to cooperate for the common good of the Church and mankind, the results of the election of the president of the new structure were announced. In accordance with the results of the secret ballot, for the next four years the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Central Asia will be headed by Bishop José Luís Mumbiela Sierra, Ordinary of the Diocese of the Most Holy Trinity in Almaty, who previously presided over the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Kazakhstan. Bishop Jerzy Maculewicz, Apostolic Administrator of Uzbekistan, was elected Vice-Chairman. Bishop Evgeny Zinkovsky, Auxiliary Bishop of the Karaganda Diocese, has been appointed Secretary General of the Conference of Catholic Bishops of Central Asia. They are the ones who, in solidarity with all bishops, ordinaries and priests, will represent Catholics in the Central Asian region in relations with the states of the countries and coordinate common actions for more effective implementation of the mission of the Catholic Church and spiritual nourishment of the faithful.
An appropriate exhortation was addressed to the participants by Cardinal Louis Antonio Gokim Tagle, Prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples. It was due to the reform carried out by this Vatican office that the emergence of such an international association of bishops became possible. His Eminence congratulated those present on this significant event, which is called upon to play a special role in the life and ministry of the Church in the territories of the countries of Central Asia. He noted that although the Catholic Church in this region is represented by a minority, this does not detract from the role it plays in the life of society. Emphasizing the history of Catholics in this region and especially highlighting the persons who are an example of a holy life for all believers, he outlined several guidelines for the work of the new conference. Among them: the development of friendly relations with other religions, the constant formation and proper training of priests, nuns and laity who carry out catechesis in parishes, including the use of special grants from the Vatican, translation into the Kazakh language and publication of Catholic books, prayer books and manuals in Kazakh, as this can contribute to the penetration of the Gospel into various areas of society, the synodal process, work with youth and families, and the implementation of Caritas projects. He also thanked the present representatives of the state authorities for coming to share the joy of this event, expressed condolences for the victims of the tragedy of the January riots in the country, and also emphasized the commitment of the Government of the Republic to the goals of peace and the development of dialogue between different peoples, confessions and religions.
Mr.Ashimbaev expressed his thanks for the invitation to the opening of the first plenary session of the newly formed Conference. He read the welcome address from the President of the Republic of Kazakhstan, Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, to the participants of the Conference, and also assured that “the Senate of the Parliament of Kazakhstan seeks to provide all possible support and assistance to the development of interfaith dialogue, intercultural understanding and mutual respect to achieve world peace”. He also noted that “bilateral relations between the Catholic Church and the Republic of Kazakhstan are excellent and are strengthening year by year, due to close cooperation” at various levels, as well as “through various educational, cultural, social and humanitarian initiatives and projects”.
Citing the words of John Paul II, addressed to the people of Kazakhstan during his visit to Kazakhstan in 2001, about the common goal – to “be peace-makers, because a society solidly based on peace is a society with a future”, the Chairman of the Senate of the Parliament of the Republic of Kazakhstan drew attention to the tragedy of growing conflicts around the world, especially in Ukraine. He noted that Kazakhstan “urges the conflicting parties to find a settlement of the conflict through negotiations, through dialogue, which will provide an encouraging future for these brotherly peoples of both countries”.
According to him, the second historic visit of the Roman Pontiff and his participation in the 7th Congress of Leaders of World and Traditional Religions “can really become a unique event confirming the role of Kazakhstan in providing a reliable platform for interreligious and intercivilizational dialogue and cooperation in the world”.
He also invited all the members of the Bishops’ Conference and the Catholic communities of the countries it brought together to participate and contribute to the success of the Congress. Expressing his conviction that Kazakhstan and the Vatican have great potential and many opportunities for further cooperation in various fields, Mr. Ashimbaev wished the participants success in fulfilling their noble ecclesiastical mission and fruitful work at the Conference.
The meeting of the Conference itself lasted for several days, during which the bishops and ordinaries of 7 countries discussed issues relating to pastoral activities and various projects of the Church in the region. The meeting finished on May 1, when the participants dedicated Central Asia to the Holy Mother of God at the National Shrine of the Queen of Peace in Oziornoje.