On the first day of May, a month specially dedicated to the Virgin Mary, at the Kazakhstani National Shrine of the Queen of Peace in Oziornoje, bishops and ordinaries from Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Azerbaijan, Afghanistan and Mongolia consecrated Central Asia to Mary, the Holy Mother of God. Thus symbolically the first plenary session of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Central Asia, which began on April 26, ended.
These hierarchs, having gathered together for the very first time all together, spent these few days productively. The program, which began with a trip to Karaganda (photo gallery) the day before the official grand opening (photo gallery), was very busy one.
In work groups that were conducted during the meeting, the participants could discuss the actual issues that the Church faces in our time, determine the procedure for the work to be carried out in the church, social and other organizations and projects, talk about the experience of working and solving problems in the cultural and economic context of the countries of the Central Asian region, share their vision of how a newly formed international church structure can better serve God and people in places of its presence, but also just be together in brotherly fellowship.
The latter seems to be very important, since it is only in Kazakhstan in its three dioceses and one apostolic administration that there are 5 bishops and one apostolic administrator, who previously met within the framework of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Kazakhstan. In other countries of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Central Asia, the main representatives are only single individuals. That is why at this meeting the participants very often expressed their joy the formation of a single Conference and emphasized the importance of cooperation and friendship for the better realization of the mission of the Church. The prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, Cardinal Luis Antonio Gokim Tagle, also encouraged the participants to develop such relations during the final meeting of the work groups of the Conference.
As part of a press conference at Interfax-Kazakhstan, the president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Central Asia, the vice-president and the secretary general answered journalists’ questions regarding the activities and implemenaiton of the plans of the new church structure.
Participants were able not only to participate in working meetings, but also to spend time in an informal setting.
On the day of the official opening of the plenary session, the ordinaries of the Central Asian countries visited the Apostolic Nunciature (Embassy of the Vatican) in the Republic of Kazakhstan, where they met with Apostolic Nuncio Francis Assisi Chullikatt.
On Thursday, April 28, the ordinaries made a visit to the old church (historically the first parish in the city) in Nur-Sultan, where, together with the Franciscan community serving there, they celebrated the Holy Mass. Full photo gallery >>
On April 29, the ordinaries made a sightseeing tour of the capital of Kazakhstan, visiting the N. Nazarbayev Center for the Development of Interfaith and Intercivilizational Dialogue, the Astana-Baiterek Monument and the Monument to the Defenders of the Motherland, on the square in front of which Saint John Paul II celebrated Holy Mass in 2001. Photo gallery >>
On April 30, participants of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Central Asia went to the village of Oziornoje, located 400 km to te north from the capital, visiting the parish of St. Anthony in Kokshetau and the parish of St. Francis of Assisi in the village of Kellerovka on the way. In Oziornoje itself, which is sacred for Kazakh Catholics, the group visited the Barefoot Carmelites Monastery, the statue of the Virgin with fish on the lake, the cross on Volynskaya Sopka (a monument to all victims of repression in Kazakhstan), and also prayed in the shrine and at the altar of Perpetual Eucharistic Adoration, the “Star of Kazakhstan”. Photo gallery >>
On May 1, immediately after the solemn Mass, the hierarchs read a prayer, thus dedicating all the countries of Central Asia and the members of the new Catholic Bishops’ Conference to the maternal intercession of the Most Holy Mother of God. Photo gallery >>
The homily during Holy Mass was given by Bishop Athanasius Schneider. In his homily he said:
“Praised be Jesus Christ! Glory to Jesus Christ! Christ is risen! During his visit to Kazakhstan, Saint Pope John Paul II turned in a special way the spiritual gaze of the Catholics of Kazakhstan and Central Asia to the Most Holy Mother of God and the Virgin Mary. The Pope called on the Virgin Mary under two titles: “Perpetual Help” and “Queen of Peace”, saying the following words of such importance: “At this moment, I wish to go on spiritual pilgrimage to your national Marian shrine near Oziornoe where you, dear Brothers and Sisters, venerate the Blessed Virgin under the title of Queen of Peace. Prostrate at her feet, I pray for the entire nation of Kazakhstan: for its leaders and citizens, for the families, the young people, the children and the elderly, for those who are suffering and those in need. To Mary I entrust all of you: Christians and non-Christians, believers and non-believers. She is the Mother of all, because Christ her Son is the Savior of all. May Mary help all of you, dear Brothers and Sisters, to accomplish in your daily lives Christ’s command: “Love one another”, which is the guiding theme of this pastoral visit of mine.
“To the perpetual help of the Queen of peace I also entrust the countries bordering Kazakhstan, and I greet especially the pilgrims who have come today from those lands to demonstrate their faith and affection” (Words of John Paul II after Angelus on the Square of the Motherland in Astana, 23.09.2001).
On June 25, 1994, Bishop Jan Paweł Lenga, who was the first official bishop after the collapse of the Soviet Union, and the first Ordinary of Kazakhstan and all of Central Asia, proclaimed the Queen of Peace the Main Patron of Kazakhstan and Central Asia. On June 25, 1995, on the feast of Mary the Queen of Peace, in Oziornoje, Bishop Jan Paweł Lenga entrusted Kazakhstan and Central Asia to Her guardianship. On July 11, 2011, by the decision of the Conference of Catholic Bishops of Kazakhstan, Oziornoje was officially proclaimed the National Sanctuary of Kazakhstan.
Today the Bishops and Ordinaries of Kazakhstan and Central Asia have gathered in this holy place of the Mother of God to jointly dedicate themselves with their believers, as well as their countries, to the maternal care of the Blessed Virgin Mary and the Queen of Peace. Pope John Paul II, an ardent admirer of the Virgin Mary, in his words uttered in Astana in 2001, turned our eyes to the Queen of Peace and to Our Lady of Perpetual Help. The land of Kazakhstan and Central Asia was irrigated during the years of persecution of the Catholic faith with the blood of martyrs, tears and groans of the repressed. But believers have certainly experienced the truth that generations of Catholics of all times have experienced, and this is: “Servants of Mary, the children of Mary will never perish” (servus Mariae nunquam peribit). The inhabitants of this place Oziornoje also experienced this truth miraculously, when in 1941, through the intercession of the Virgin Mary, people were saved through the appearance of a lake filled with an extraordinary number of fish. Catholics during the years of persecution knew the secret of the power and joy of prayer, and this was the prayer of the holy rosary. In this so simple and at the same time so holy prayer, along with their sufferings, they brought spiritual roses to the Mother of God, and in return she showered on them like a rain of spiritual roses of consolation, strengthening and unshakable hope.
The spiritual physiognomy of the Catholics of Kazakhstan, inherited from the times of the underground and communist persecution, is marked by a special love for the prayer of the rosary and worship of the Most Blessed Sacrament. If it would be possible to depict the spirituality of the Catholics of Kazakhstan in symbols, then we can draw the Eucharistic monstrance and the rosary. Here in Oziornoje, at the National Sanctuary, there is such a symbolic image at the altar of the Eucharistic Adoration, called the “Star of Kazakhstan”. There we see the Image of the Blessed Virgin Mary, on her breast there is a place for displaying the Eucharistic Body of Christ, her hands are entwined with a rosary, and her cloak as of made of fish nets, reminiscent of the miracle of fish in the lake in 1941.
Consecrating today in the National Sanctuary in Oziornoje the Church in Kazakhstan and Central Asia to the Blessed Virgin Mary, by this act we ask God and through the mediation of the Mother of God we are waiting for the fruits of the true spiritual growth of the Church of God in this country, where she lives in an absolute minority, as a small steppe flower . We wish that this little steppe flower truly bloomed, and always bloomed, and in blooming would emit the fragrance of a pious truly Christian, i.e. Catholic life, and this means to preserve the purity of faith, the reverence of God’s worship in the liturgy, fidelity to the commandments of God, the ardor of the proclamation of Jesus Christ as the only Savior and the only God-desired path to the eternal salvation of souls. May the Lord grant with today’s consecration lasting fruits for our local churches, for our countries and peoples, namely: the innocence of children, the purity of youth, the holiness of families, the apostolic spirit of priests, the conversion of non-Christians to Christ.
The Blessed Virgin Mary called on humanity in Fatima not to offend God, to honor her Immaculate Heart, to pray the rosary, to worship, respect and love Jesus above all in the sacrament of the Eucharist (through the appearance of an Angel in 1916), and then she promised in her maternal care, the coming of peace and the victory of her Immaculate Heart. And what is the victory of the Immaculate Heart of Mary other than the triumph of the glory of Jesus Christ and Jesus of the Eucharist? Saint John Paul II said that the Most Holy Mother of God embodied the logic of the Eucharist with her whole existence. He said: “The Church, which looks to Mary as a model, is also called to imitate her in her relationship with this most holy mystery”. (Ecclesia de Eucharistia, 53).
How many times, in difficult periods of persecution, our brothers and sisters, hidden in dugouts and in rooms under locked doors and screened windows, worshiped the Blessed Sacrament, holding a rosary in their hands and singing with tears, but with love and unshakable hope for the Mother of God. We will keep their pure and simple faith, passing it on to the next generations in these expanses of Kazakhstan and Central Asia. Let us also lift up today the following words of the ancient Marian hymn left to us as a precious inheritance by the persecuted Catholics, who preceded us with the sign of faith: “Most Holy Mother, hope of sinners, Have pity on us now as before. We, the children of Eve, mournfully implore: Be merciful, we cry out to You. Where in this world can we seek protection? Only with You we are sheltered from troubles. Mother’s heart accepts the weak, It is open to all who suffer. For the sake of Mother’s fervent prayers, Your Son forgives our sins. From storms and heat on the harsh path, You cover us with Your veil”.
We ask God that the Catholics of Kazakhstan and Central Asia always have the Eucharist and the Blessed Virgin Mary. Rooted and inflamed in love for the Holy Eucharist and for the Virgin Mary, the Church in Kazakhstan and Central Asia is no longer afraid of the future. Through Mary to Jesus, to Jesus the Eucharistic. Per Mariam ad Jesum, et Jesum Eucharisticum! Amen.
The ordinaries ask the faithful to pray that the work of the new Conference may bear many good fruits to the glory of God and to help all believers.