Church calls for peace in Kazakhstan

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CSTO Armenian peacekeepers at the Aksai bakery. Kazakhstan has been embroiled in unrest following protests in the cities of Zhanaozen and Aktau in western Kazakhstan sparked by rising fuel prices.

ITAR-TASS News Agency / Alamy

Catholic bishops have called for peace in Kazakhstan after a week of anti-government protests, sparked by rising fuel prices, left dozens dead and injured and thousands arrested in the Central Asian country.

“The Catholics of this country, united in prayer with Pope Francis, pray for the rest of the souls of those killed in the riots,” the Episcopal Conference said on Monday in a statement on its website. “The bishops and ordinaries of Kazakhstan called on the priests to celebrate Mass with their intention, inviting believers to participate, and will continue to pray for a speedy resolution of the current situation and the establishment of peace and prosperity” .

The statement came as President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev called the unrest, centered in Kazakhstan’s largest city, Almaty, an attempted coup, and said on Monday that a national curfew and a ban on gatherings would remain in place for at least 10 days.

The Pope expressed his “deep concern” at the violence and entrusted Kazakhstan to the intercession of the Virgin Mary in a Sunday Angelus message from Saint Peter’s Square, adding that he hoped that harmony social would be “restored as quickly as possible thanks to the search for dialogue, justice and the common good”.

However, an Italian-born bishop who heads the country’s Karaganda Diocese has warned that religious services are currently banned under the state of emergency, disrupting the life of the church.

“The situation was not as critical in Karaganda as it was in Almaty – there were peaceful protests here, which quickly dispersed,” Bishop Adelio Dell’Oro, 73, told the agency. Vatican Fides Press Release. “But we also suffered a lot of inconvenience due to the lack of internet connections, which also prevented bank withdrawals and prevented people from being able to shop.”

The Catholic Church makes up only one percent of the 17 million inhabitants of the predominantly Muslim Kazakhstan, and also has dioceses in the capital Nursultan and Almaty, the latter with a dozen parishes, as well as an apostolic administration in Atyrau and another for Greek Catholics.

Archbishop Athanasius Schneider, Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese of Maria Santissima in Astana, tweeted on Saturday that Catholics in Kazakhstan are safe amid unprecedented unrest.

Bishop Schneider gained international notoriety through his advocacy for traditional liturgical practices such as communion on the tongue and was one of the three bishops of Kazakhstan to have signed a “Profession of Immutable Truths on Sacramental Marriage” in 2017.

“Thank God Catholics in Kazakhstan are safe,” he wrote. “In our churches, we continue to celebrate Holy Mass, to make Eucharistic adoration and to pray in particular for peace in our country and for harmony in social life, which the Kazakh people desire. “

At least 160 have been killed and more than 700 injured in the unrest, which erupted on January 2 and was the worst since Kazakhstan’s independence in 1991 from the Soviet Union.

Speaking to regional leaders in a video call on Monday, after sending the first of 5,000 Russian troops to maintain order, President Vladimir Putin said Kazakhstan had been the target of “well-organized and militant groups and clearly managed “, some trained in” terrorist camps “. abroad ”, adding that Russia“ would never allow revolutions in the region ”.

Meanwhile, Kazakhstan’s interior ministry confirmed that around 8,000 people had been detained in the huge country and warned that lethal force would be used to prevent further protests.

Speaking on the occasion of the Orthodox Christmas on January 7, Russian Patriarch Kirill said that Kazakhstan had welcomed “a large number of new martyrs and confessors of churches” under the Communist regime, adding that the Russians “could not not remain indifferent “to” bloodshed, clashes and civil unrest “, which occurs” just around the corner in the territory of historic Rus “.

Meanwhile, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church in Kazakhstan, Metropolitan Alexander Mogilev, supported President Tokayev’s “wise and timely decision” to seek help from Russia and other states belonging to the Organization. of the Moscow-led collective security treaty, and urged “healthy forces in society” to “rally” to the besieged head of state.

Caritas Kazakhstan staff were forced to stay at home for their own safety. The director, Father Guido Trezzani, reported that the staff could not reach his office in Almaty, saying: “We are about a kilometer and a half from the government buildings, and we heard gunshots”.

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