Pope Francis plans to visit Kazakhstan in September.
Vatican City, Apr 12, 2022 / 04:35 am (CNA).
The pope intends to visit the Central Asian country for the seventh edition of the Congress of Leaders of World and Traditional Religions taking place in the Kazakh capital city of Nur-Sultan on September 14-15.
Kazakhstan’s President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev announced the potential papal visit on April 11 following a video call with the pope.
Vatican spokesman Matteo Bruni later confirmed: “Yes, there was video contact this morning and the pope confirmed his intention to travel to the country.”
Kazakhstan has been proposed as a potential country that could serve as a location for a meeting between Pope Francis and Orthodox Patriarch Kirill of Moscow.
Kirill is expected to participate in the Congress of the Leaders of World and Traditional Religions in Kazakhstan.
But the Vatican is also studying the possibility of an earlier meeting between the pope and the Russian Orthodox patriarch in Jerusalem in June in conjunction with a potential trip to Lebanon, according to Reuters.
A potential papal visit to Kazakhstan has been in the works since before the COVID-19 pandemic.
The ambassador of Kazakhstan to the Holy See told EWTN in 2020 that there were “high hopes” that Pope Francis would visit Kazakhstan to take part in the interreligious congress, which was postponed due to the pandemic.
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 the central Asian country amid heightened security concerns following the September 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 18.28 million.
Ethnic Kazakhs are predominately Sunni Muslim, 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 state to be around 10,000 in number.
Kazakhstan is the world’s largest landlocked country, at 1,052,100 square miles. But with a population of around 18.3 million, 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.
Pope Francis has expressed his intention to visit at least three continents in the next six months.
The Vatican has confirmed that the pope is set to travel to the Democratic Republic of the Congo July 2-5 and South Sudan July 5-7.
The president of Lebanon has said that Pope Francis will visit the Middle Eastern country in June.
And the pope has indicated that he hopes to travel to Canada for the July 26 feast of St. Anne as a gesture of apology for the role Catholics have played in the abuse of Indigenous peoples in Canada, especially in residential schools.