A look at those who gave Pope Francis a warm welcome today.
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Under a bright sun illuminating the futuristic Expo Grounds, thousands of faithful from Kazakhstan’s small Catholic community flocked to attend Pope Francis’ public Mass. Missionary nuns, locals, about 40 priests, but also members of the Muslim majority in the country, greeted the Pontiff.
I.MEDIA has collected the testimony of several of them, very moved by the arrival of the Pontiff in their country.
“It is a gift for us,” said Sister Bojena Zelewska, a Polish nun who has lived in Kazakhstan for 13 years. A member of the Beatitudes community, she speaks perfect French, a memory of her formative years in France where she spent several years.
She came to attend the Pope’s Mass with a hundred members of her parish in Kokchetau, 300 km north of Nour-Sultan. Her town was founded by Polish deportees at a time when the USSR was deporting non-Russian populations en masse to this region, especially to gulags.
“Many people suffered in this country, so they understand the importance of coexistence and solidarity,” she explains.
As little Russian-speaking girls waved the white and gold flag of the Vatican, three nuns from the Missionaries of Charity stepped forward. Among them, two Indian women, all smiles. “We don’t give interviews, but we will pray for you,” says the one who seems to be their superior.
Many sisters are living their mission in Kazakhstan. Sister Bojena is happy to be living in a country where faith is developing “very rapidly.”
“This country has a message of peace, of dialogue and mutual listening for the world,” she says.
Stressing the diversity of peoples – German, Polish, Slovak, Russian – and different religions – Orthodox, Muslim, Catholic – who live together on the same territory, she praised the ability of these populations to coexist. The Pontiff’s mass even attracted members from other surrounding countries, including Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, who showed their joy at being present, even though they could not make themselves understood in their own language.
The Polish woman also sees in the coming of Pope Francis the legacy of the first visit of a pontiff to Kazakhstan, made by her compatriot John Paul II in 2001. “He brought this message of peace and now it is Pope Francis who confirms this message.”
Maxim, a 31-year-old Kazakh Catholic belonging to the lay movement Communion and Liberation, remembers John Paul II’s visit a little, but considers the Argentine Pope’s visit “for his generation.”
“I have always hoped for a pope to come,” he says, declaring that this is “the most awaited day” of his life.
“It touches my heart,” says the photographer, who was invited to cover the event, in excellent Italian. Originally from Karaganda, a city with a large German-speaking population, he now lives in Nour-Soultan.
When the Pontiff arrived, the crowd seemed to be overcome by emotion for a while and timidly greeted him. But, thanks to the impulse of some nuns who weren’t shy about raising their voices, and then to the invitation of a priest at the microphone, the assembly made their joy at seeing their pope heard.