Celebrating the Catholic Presence in Kyrgyzstan

During the recent ad limina visit of the Bishops’ Conference of Kazakhstan and Central Asia, Pope Francis encouraged the leaders of these churches to focus on the germogli, or “sprouts” of God’s activity.  We Jesuits serving in Kyrgyzstan continue to reflect on this rich comparison as we serve the tiny Catholic communities in this area.  On May 12th, Catholics gathered at the church in Bishkek to thank God for His faithfulness to the community throughout the many decades, and centuries, of the Church’s presence in the territory of Kyrgyzstan.  The event was designed to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the registration, by the Soviet government, of the Catholic community in Kyrgyz capital.  Guests included Bishop Athanasius Schneider, a native of the German diaspora during their exile by Stalin at the beginning of the Second World War.  Also present were priests from Kazakhstan and Russia, including Eastern Rite Fr. Joseph Svidnitski, who ministered to Catholics throughout the Soviet Union before and after his imprisonment for pastoral and ecumenical activity.  During his homily, Bishop Schneider urged the Catholics of Kyrgyzstan to see God’s continued activity precisely in the small, reminding all that the primary reason for celebrating always emerges from the fact that the Faith is alive and that God is close.

On May 13-14, the Jesuits co-sponsored with the National Slavic University a symposium exploring various topics related to “Christianity in Kyrgyzstan: History and Contemporary Reality.”  Local professors as well as experts from other countries presented solid academic research on such themes as Nestorian Christian presence in earlier centuries of Christianity within the territory of contemporary Kyrgyzstan, Franciscan missions of the Middle Ages in Central Asia, and touched upon questions and challenges facing Christians of various ethnic groups in subsequent centuries.  In addition, several local university students participated in a competition designed to attract future scholars to take up topics related to Christianity in this area. 

Seven Jesuits serve several communities throughout this papal mission to the Society.  Catholics comprise a very small minority among the Christian populace, which is estimated to be less than ten percent of the overall population within this primarily Muslim country. The works of the Church include pastoral, humanitarian and smaller academic endeavors.  This service provides the Society and Church a unique opportunity, located at the frontier of various converging cultures and religions, to undertake its “ministry of consolation,” directed both inwardly, to the development and deepening of the Christian community, as well as outwardly, striving to humbly collaborate with those of other faiths and cultures in undertaking tasks which are common to the larger Kyrgyz society.

On the one hand, choosing to celebrate the official registration of one community may seem a bit like highlighting a bureaucratic formality; nevertheless, marking the realization of the dreams and efforts of the Christians living in such extraordinary circumstances provides local Catholics with the opportunity of declaring their grateful awareness of God’s remarkable fidelity throughout centuries of our presence in this land.  In doing so, we are able to witness to the conviction that the Church is alive and active, a germoglio witnessing, to a very modest extent, to God’s closeness.