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Catholic Mission in Kirgyzstan

People in Kirgyzstan are looking for Christ.

Three years ago, a Polish woman living in Dzanydzer (meaning “The New Land” in Kyrgiz language)  started looking for a catholic priest in Kirgyzstan. As it turned out, there was a catholic parish in Bishkek, the capital of Kirgyzstan, 30 miles away from Dzanydzer. The priest was able to visit the Polish woman, and now there are more than 30 people in Dzanydzer who attend the Mass regularly. Seven years ago two Jesuit priests were working on an evangelization plan for Kirgyzstan. At this moment, two little girls came in, looking for a priest who would hear the confession of their dying grandmother in a village away from town. Today, in this village called Iwanowka, the third parish has already been created.  This situation is similar all around Kirgyzstan – it all starts with just one priest’s visit to a family or elderly person, and pretty soon a small parish is created.

People in Kirgyzstan are looking for Christ.

Three years ago, a Polish woman living in Dzanydzer (meaning “The New Land” in Kyrgiz language)  started looking for a catholic priest in Kirgyzstan. As it turned out, there was a catholic parish in Bishkek, the capital of Kirgyzstan, 30 miles away from Dzanydzer. The priest was able to visit the Polish woman, and now there are more than 30 people in Dzanydzer who attend the Mass regularly. Seven years ago two Jesuit priests were working on an evangelization plan for Kirgyzstan. At this moment, two little girls came in, looking for a priest who would hear the confession of their dying grandmother in a village away from town. Today, in this village called Iwanowka, the third parish has already been created.  This situation is similar all around Kirgyzstan – it all starts with just one priest’s visit to a family or elderly person, and pretty soon a small parish is created.

The Church in Kirgyzstan

Kirgyzstan is one of the five mid-Asian former Soviet republics that appeared on the world maps suddenly as independent countries in 1991, but remains relatively unknown to most of us. Kirgyzstan borders with Kazakhstan, China, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. Size-wide Kirgyzstan equals approximately 2/3 of New Mexico, with 90% of its surface being covered with mountains reaching over 20 000 feet.  Population approaches 5 million, with a mix of Kirgyzs, Uzbeks, Russians, Uygurs, Dungans, Germans, Ukrainians, Kurds, Tadjiks, Turks and Poles – a total of around 100 nationalities. Muslims dominate the religious landscape, but they are not radicals and their connection to the Muslim faith is loose. Christianity  arrived to Kirgyzstan in the early Middle Ages, when the nestorians got there. Their monasteries are still to be seen along the Silk Trail from China to Europe. In the 14th and 15th centuries, the Franciscan missionaries started real evangelization work with local peoples. Most recently, Catholics arrived at the end of the 19th century – these were the Polish and German settlers. In the thirties and fourties of last century tens of thousands of Catholics were deported to Kirgyzstan by Soviet leader Joseph Stalin. The first legal parish was established in the sixties. At the end of the eighties Jesuits took over the care for Catholics in this country. Right now there are 13 missionaries and nuns in Kirgyzstan.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOther than the Bikshek parish, missionaries are visiting about 30 Catholic gatherings that are spread around the country, each between a few and few tens of souls strong. The most distant one is in Dzalalabad and is visited by a priest only once per two months, because the road going through the mountains up to 16 000 feet high is pretty often impossible to pass. Parishioners are mostly Polish, but also Russian, German, Korean and native Kirgyz. Most of them are elderly and very poor, but there is also quite a lot of young people and kids.

Charity and missionary work

The most recent February – March 2005 revolution in Kirgyzstan was caused primarily by poverty. Most citizens have no work and often they only eat what they can plant themselves in their gardens. Retirees are given approximately 5 to 10 $ per month, and 1$ will buy 10 small breads. Field workers, who spend 10 hours working hard in high heat, are paid 1$ per day. This pay is seen as decent. Lots of children are either homeless or working, instead of attending schools. There is no medical services outside cities, and in the cities all the  healthcare has to be paid in full by the patient – there is no insurance system. Major problems besides poverty are: abuse of alcohol and destruction of family structure – both a legacy of 70 years of communism.

It therefore seems clear that charity is the major obligation of the Catholic Church in Kirgyzstan. Material help coming from abroad, mostly from Germany, is distributed by us, missionaries, primarily among the sick, invalids, large families and lonely elderly people. We especially care about the houses for elderly or invalids. Each time we visit such a house, we try to bring a bread, an apple or a tomato. I have never before seen people eating bread with such hunger. Some of these old people have only one pair of clothes – the ones they wear all the time, so we do our best to deliver clothes from charity help from abroad. We show them religion-related movies, mostly animated since these are the easiest to understand, we tell them stories from the Holy Bible, sing and most of all, and if a priest is present we have a Holy Mass. For these poor people it is most important that they know someone who remembers them and likes them. In the houses for elderly even the smallest amount of time spent together, attention and common prayer has a great, special meaning.

We are allowed by the authorities to visit 12 prisons, including a prison for women and minors. In two prisons we have prayer groups, where we meet with the prisoners on a regular basis to pray and explain the Bible. We also prepare them for the Sacraments, especially Confession. We have 3 such groups in the women’s prison, including one group in the part of prison which is isolated for women with small children. These women mostly ask for soap for their children. One day’s food ration in prison equals one loaf of bread, so many prisoners are weak and tuberculosis is widespread.

The two topics prisoners want to hear about most are the God’s love and forgiveness. All of them know the true meaning of injustice and suffering. In prisons we also show movies like Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of Christ” – those projections are most popular. In helping those prisoners, elderly and invalids, it does not matter for us whether they are Catholics, Muslims, protestants or orthodox.

Right now the major obstacle in our missionary work is lack of vehicles. The ones we have are constantly broken, we have too few of them and they are not suitable for rough terrain that dominates this landscape. Prisons, elderly houses and invalids houses are far away and public transportation does not cover all the areas. Just to get to one of the prisons that we visit once per week by public transport takes 7 hours, including walking. Getting there by car takes only 1.5 hour. We would therefore welcome any help you could provide in obtaining a new or used 4-wheel drive vehicle. To buy a relatively good quality used vehicle we need about $4000.

Thank you for your time and help, God bless you all,

Brother Damian Wojciechowski, SJ