By Lisa Zengarini
Among the thousands of Catholic faithful attending the Holy Mass presided by Pope Francis at the “EXPO Grounds” in Nur-Sultan on Wednesday, there was also a small representation of pilgrims from Russia. The pilgrimage is organized by the Archdiocese of the Mother of God in Moscow under the motto “We are witnesses of unity”, to express the closeness and support of the Catholic Church in Russia to the Pope as he brings his message of peace and fraternity to neighbouring Kazakhstan in these difficult times for the region and the entire world.
The group, who departed from Moscow on September 12, arrived in the Kazakh capital on Wedneday, after stopping in the Siberian city of Omsk, in Karaganda, Kazakhstan, and visiting on Tuesday Karlag, one of the largest Soviet gulags where, between 1930 and 1960, tens of thousands of inmates, including Russian Christians, lost their lives.
Pope’s visit means a lot to Russian Catholics
Leading the pilgrimage is Bishop Nikolai Dubinin, Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese of Moscow, who yesterday presided over a Remembrance Mass at Karlag for those who died there during the Soviet persecutions . In an interview granted to Vatican News ahead of the event he explained how important it is for these Russian pilgrims to visit Kazakhstan and meet the Holy Father on this special occasion.
“We have been praying for the Pope to visit to Russia for many years and as Catholics we are still waiting for this visit to happen. Unfortunately, such a visit is not yet possible, but we haven’t lost hope,” said Bishop Dubinin.
Although only a small number of faithful from Russia have been able to join the pilgrimage, the prelate said that many Catholics across the country are joining spiritually Pope Francis in his Apostolic Journey to the Central Asian nation, especially during today’s celebration of the Eucharist on the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross.
The Pope’s presence in Kazakhstan brings “light and hope” for peace
The importance of the participation of the albeit small Russian Catholic group in the event has also been highlighted by Fr. Janez Sever, a Slovenian American Jesuit who works as director of a cultural center and a formation coordinator in Novosibirsk, in Siberia.
Speaking to Vatican News’ Antonella Palermo, the priest said Pope Francis’ presence in Kazakhstan in these “mad times” of war in Ukraine, but also in many other parts of the world, brings “light and hope” for peace also to Russian Catholics.
The “thirst for world peace” and the key role of religions in building harmony and fraternity between peoples have been the focus of Pope Francis’s firsttwo public speeches in Nur-Sultan in which he has upheld the Kazakhstan as an example of peaceful coexistence between peoples of different faiths, cultures and nationalities.
In his homily during the Mass at the EXPO Grounds he further underscored that “Peace is never achieved once for all,” and insisted that “commitment is demanded on the part of all if Kazakhstan is to keep growing in “fraternity, dialogue, and understanding”.
Referring specifically to the ongoing conflict in Ukraine, as well as in other areas of the world, he prayed again that we never grow accustomed to war, or resign to its perceived inevitability.