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New regional conference unites Central Asian bishops

Bishops' Conference of Central Asia brings together bishops in Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan and Tajikistan

UCA News reporter

UCA News reporter

Published: October 12, 2021 07:14 AM GMT

Updated: October 12, 2021 07:30 AM GMT

New regional conference unites Central Asian bishops

Bishop Adelio Dell’Oro of Karaganda in Kazakhstan. (Photo: Wikidata)

Catholic bishops in Central Asia have formed a new regional bishops’ conference with an aim to forge unity among the faithful in Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan and Tajikistan three decades after the five nations' independence from the former Soviet Union.

The Bishops’ Conference of Central Asia will help the growth of the Church in the region, said Bishop Adelio Dell’Oro of Karaganda in Kazakhstan.

"It is the result of two years of work and will bring the Catholic presence in this land to grow and mature. We will have the opportunity to give greater meaning to our mission here, to understand what it means, 30 years after the independence of these countries, to be in a territory with a Muslim or Orthodox majority," Bishop Dell’Oro told the Vatican’s Fides news agency.

“This is an important issue for all five countries. In this way we will be able to go back to following a common path.” 

Islam dominates in the five nations with an estimated total population of 72 million, mostly Sunni Muslims. The region has a significant concentration of Russian Orthodox Christians.

The territory of former Soviet republics covers the Caspian Sea in the west to China in the east, which is home to the Uzbek, Kazakh, Tajik, Turkmen and Kyrgyz ethnic groups. Except for the Tajik, most of them speak local dialects of the Turkish language. The region has Russia and Iran to the north as neighbors, with Afghanistan and Iran to the south.  

Basically, what until recently only happened between the various dioceses is now also happening between the churches of five states

The new episcopal body was established by a decree from the Vatican’s Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples on Sept. 8. It aims to help the regional bishops respond together to common challenges and to ensure mutual support to address problems in each country.

Following the decree, the Bishops' Conference of Kazakhstan held its 41st plenary session on Sept. 20. The apostolic nuncio, Indian Archbishop Francis Assisi Chullikat, who has been doing the groundwork for the creation of the new body since 2016, attended the gathering.

Bishop Dell’Oro said the conference will help “the Catholic presence in this land to grow and mature.”

"We are very happy for the creation of this new episcopal conference,” the 73-year-old Italian bishop said.

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Kazakhstan is the largest among the five Central Asian nations with nearly 15 million inhabitants. Catholics are estimated to number around 250,000.

Polish Archbishop Thomas Peta leads the Archdiocese of Astana in the capital city, while Spanish Bishop Jose Luis Mombiela Sierra heads the Diocese of Almaty and Bishop Dell'Oro shepherds the Diocese of Karaganda. Greek-Catholic Bishop Vasyl Hovera looks after the Byzantine-rite Catholics of Kazakhstan and in other nations.

Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan function as apostolic administrations, while Tajikistan and Turkmenistan operate as sui juris (independent) missions.

Bishop Dell'Oro said church leaders will have “the opportunity to give greater meaning to our mission here, to understand what it means.”

“Basically, what until recently only happened between the various dioceses is now also happening between the churches of five states,” the prelate added.

The new bishops’ conference is scheduled to hold a two-day webinar, "The mission of evangelization in Central Asia in times of Evangelii Gaudium — Context, difficulties, perspectives," starting from Oct. 12 and organized by the Pontifical Missionary Union.

The webinar will discuss the state of mission and future perspectives including the challenge to “overcome a faith that at times is linked only to rites and traditions brought here by the first missionaries,” noted Bishop Dell'Oro.

Then there is the “the painful history of atheism” imposed by the erstwhile Soviet Union, he added.

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