Foreigners in Kyrgyzstan need government permission for preaching and missionary work
A Catholic priest is seen with the faithful after a mass at home in Kyrgyzstan in this undated image. (Photo: Aid to the Church in Need)
Security officials in Kyrgyzstan have fined two Slovak nuns for violating the country’s laws after they read from Bible during a Sunday Mass.
The officials visited St. Nicholas Church in north-western Talas town on March 26 and imposed a fine of US$90 each on Sisters Daniela Činčilova and Eva Eliašová of the School Sisters of St. Francis Congregation, Fides news agency reported.
Officials accused the nuns of illegally preaching Catholicism in Talas without authorization from the State Commission for Religious Affairs.
The decision to fine the nuns was “certainly taken out of ignorance…the nuns did not violate the regulations in force in Kirghizstan," said Jesuit brother Damian Wojciechowski, director of the curia of the Apostolic Administration of Kyrgyzstan.The nuns did the two readings of the Sunday Mass. But they did not preach or officiate at Mass.
A national regulation stipulates that foreigners gain special permission for missionary work such as preaching or officiating at Mass.
Police claimed to have photographic evidence against the nuns preaching.Fides reported that the police prevented the Catholics from leaving the church for about an hour and a half until the nuns signed the document.
The tiny Catholic Church in the country with several thousand members operates as a sui juris (independent) mission directly under the Vatican.
Wojciechowski said they have already taken steps to appeal to the court and we are confident that the fine can be canceled since we have always acted by the country’s existing laws."
A central Asian nation and a former Soviet republic, about 90 percent of Kyrgyzstan’s estimated 6.8 population is Muslim, seven percent Christian and about three percent do not follow any religion, according to official data.
Christians belong mostly to the Russian Orthodox and Protestant churches, the US Department of State reported in 2022.
Catholics in Kyrgyzstan are spread in nine parishes. Three main Catholic churches are located in Biškek, the national capital, Jalal-Abad, and Talas.
As of 2020, there were about 4,000 Catholics in Kyrgyzstan, according to the papal charity, Aid to the Church in Need.
Currently, nine Jesuit priests and one brother from Slovenia, Vietnam, the United States, Kazakhstan, and Poland, a Slovakian diocesan priest, and 11 nuns from three congregations serve local Catholics.
Many local Catholics live far from the parish churches and gather to pray in private homes, where foreign missionaries periodically visit them.
The church in Talas was reopened in 2019, the first church reconsecrated after Kyrgyzstan gained independence after the end of Soviet rule in 1991, Fides reported.
The minority church gained new impetus when the Vatican established a new regional bishops’ conference in 2021 that covers Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan, and Tajikistan, all of them part of the Soviet Union until independence in 1991. Later, Mongolia was added to the new episcopal body.
Observers say that Kyrgyzstan’s constitution ensures religious freedom, and the state has no official religion, but it placed restrictions on religions and religious activities since 2009.
The Freedom of Conscience and Religious Organizations in the Kyrgyz Republic (in brief religion law) of 2008, indirectly restricted new, foreign, non-traditional, or proselytizing religious organizations that could be considered a threat to “national security, social stability, . . . public order, . . . or morality,” according to the International Center for Law and Religion Studies.
The law declares inviolate a person’s rights to ascribe to and express any religious or atheistic beliefs, also declaring all religions equal before the law. The very next clause, however, allows the government to restrict any religious organization to “secure rights and freedoms of other persons, social security, order, territorial integrity, and protection of the constitutional order,” it noted.
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