Russia’s war in Ukraine sets the stage for Pope’s visit to Kazakhstan

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NUR-SULTAN, Kazakhstan – Russia’s war in Ukraine and the Holy See’s tense relations with China set the scene for Pope Francis’ visit this week to the former Soviet Republic of Kazakhstan, where he serves a small Catholic community and participates in a interfaith conference aimed at promoting peace and dialogue.

Francis flew to the Kazakh capital Nur-Sultan on Tuesday to meet President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev during the three-day trip’s state visit. On Wednesday and Thursday, he will participate in an interfaith meeting with more than 100 delegations from Muslim, Christian, Jewish, Buddhist, Shinto and other faith groups from 50 countries.

Perhaps the most notable aspects of Francis’ visit are missed opportunities: Francis is said to have met the head of the Russian Orthodox Church on the margins of the conference. But Patriarch Kirill, who has justified the war in Ukraine, canceled his trip last month.

Francis will also be in the Kazakh capital at the same time as Chinese President Xi Jinping, who is making his first foreign visit since the coronavirus pandemic.

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Xi will not attend the religious convention. On the Pope’s flight to Kazakhstan, Francis was asked about a possible meeting with Xi and replied, “I have no news about this. But I am always ready to go to China.”

The Holy See and Beijing have had no diplomatic relations for more than half a century, and the two sides are finalizing the renewal of a controversial agreement on the appointment of Catholic bishops in China.

Both focus on the Interfaith Conference, an important triennial event for Kazakhstan, a country bordering Russia to the north and China to the east and home to some 130 ethnic groups. It is a showpiece of its foreign policy and a reflection of its own multicultural and multiethnic population that has long been touted as a crossroads between East and West.

Darhan Qydyrali, minister of information and social development, said the presence of world religious leaders in the country is completely in Kazakhstan’s national interest. “We invited them and hoped that Patriarch Kirill would participate as well,” he told The The Bharat Express News on the eve of the convention. “Overall, I think Congress will set an example that other issues can also be resolved through the dialogue of religions.”

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When John Paul II visited in 2001, ten years after independence, he emphasized the diversity of Kazakhstan and recalled its dark past under Stalinist repression: from 1936, entire villages of ethnic Poles were massively deported from western Ukraine to Kazakhstan, and the Soviet government deported hundreds of thousands of ethnic Germans, Chechens, and other accused Nazi collaborators to Kazakhstan during World War II. Many of the deportees’ descendants have remained, and some of them make up the country’s Catholic community, which numbers only about 125,000 in a country of nearly 19 million people.

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Sophia Gatovskaya, a parishioner at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Cathedral in the capital, said she attended that first papal visit and it continues to bear fruit to this day.

“It was actually great. And after this visit, we will have peace and tolerance in our republic. We have many nationalities in Kazakhstan and we all live together. And we expect the same from this visit (from Pope Francis) that we will have peace in our republic. And we very much expect that the war in Ukraine will end.”

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Winfield reported from Vatican City.

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The Bharat Express News religious coverage is supported by the TBEN’s partnership with The Conversation US, with funding from Lilly Endowment Inc. The TBEN is solely responsible for this content.

Russia’s post-war in Ukraine, the setting for the Pope’s visit to Kazakhstan, appeared first on The Bharat Express News.