By CNA Staff
Plans are now set for Pope Francis to visit Kazakhstan in September for an interreligious meeting. Matteo Bruni, director of the Holy See Press Office, confirmed the trip in a statement issued Monday.
“Accepting the invitation of the civil and ecclesial authorities, Pope Francis will make the announced Apostolic Journey to Kazakhstan from 13-15 September this year, visiting the city of Nur-Sultan on the occasion of the VII Congress of Leaders of World and Traditional Religions,” the statement said.
Kazakhstan President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev announced in April that a papal visit was possible. In his meeting with the media on his return flight from Canada Saturday, Pope Francis confirmed his intention to travel to the Central Asian country, saying, “That wouldn’t be too rigorous a journey.”
In recent months Kazakhstan has been discussed as a potential location for a meeting between Pope Francis and Orthodox Patriarch Kirill of Moscow, who also was expected to participate in the congress.
The first pope to travel to Kazakhstan was St. Pope John Paul II, who visited the country, together with Armenia, in September 2001. At 81 years old, and suffering from Parkinson’s disease, John Paul II spent four days in Kazakhstan amid heightened security concerns following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
In Kazakhstan, there are five Catholic dioceses and approximately 250,000 Latin Rite Catholics, according to 2008 statistics, making up a small minority of its population of 18 million people.
Ethnic Kazakhs are predominately Sunni Muslims, the most commonly practiced religion in the country. According to a 2009 national census, the second most practiced religion is Russian Orthodox Christianity, at more than 20%. The Central Asian country is also home to many immigrants.
Pope Francis erected an apostolic administration for Byzantine Catholics in Karaganda, Kazakhstan, in 2019, highlighting the growing number of Ukrainian Greek Catholics in the country, which some estimates put at around 10,000.
Kazakhstan is the world’s largest landlocked country, but it has one of the lowest population densities. The country shares borders with Russia, China, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan and adjoins part of the Caspian Sea.
(SOURCE: CATHOLIC NEWS AGENCY)