Kazakhstan: a Laboratory of Peace and Freedom
Organized at the behest of the President of Kazakhstan, the conference was attended by Christians, Muslims, and Jews, who acknowledged the right of every man to religious freedom and the need to work together for peace. At the end, they issued a common declaration

by Edoardo Canetta

The Conference of the Leaders of the  “Traditional” World Religions was held in Astana on September 23-24th at the behest of President Nursultan Abiscevich Nazabajev.
This was a political initiative, in the finest sense of the term, by which the President of the Republic of Kazakhstan wanted to call together the world’s religious leaders in order to highlight–in a land where anti-religious repression has been most violent (in Kazakhstan during the Soviet regime, especially under Stalin, tens of thousands of people were deported, including for religious reasons)–the fact that religion, and spiritual values in general, are not only to be respected, but also promoted as an invaluable element for the coexistence and development of all of society and the whole world.
It should not be forgotten that Kazakhstan was an especially fitting location for a meeting of this type, because in this country, where the majority of the population is Muslim by tradition, Muslims habitually live in peace with the Christian confessions (Orthodox, Catholic, Protestant) and other religions called traditional in that they are bound up with the culture of one of the 120 ethnic groups present in this country.

Meetings and prayer groups
The days were rich in meetings, naturally including moments of prayer, held by each group strictly in keeping with its own religious tradition.
Besides the Vatican delegation, led by Cardinal Tomko, high-level delegations of all the religions were present, with the participation of the Orthodox Archbishop Filarete, the envoy of the Patriarchate of Moscow, and the spiritual heads of the Shiite Muslim community of Iran and the Sunnites of Saudi Arabia. Presiding over the congress was the Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem, the “eldest brother” of the “religions of the Book.”
At the end of the meeting, all participants approved a joint declaration that in itself is already–in a certain sense–an unforeseeable fruit of the gathering in Astana.
The text, among other things, starts out with a fundamental affirmation, the recognition to every person of the right to freedom not only of speech, but also of religious choice. This statement is of fundamental importance, and not only for Kazakhstan.

Religions at the service of politics
The document also underlines the fact that in this age, when the illusions of anti-religious atheism seem to be exhausted, the value placed on spiritual values like human life and the dignity of the person is diminishing. This, it is said, is also the consequence of the improper use of the differences between religions, that at times turns them–against their nature–into means at the service of violent political schemes aimed at the destruction of others.
Another important proclamation is the one promoting not only the value of tolerance among the various religions and cultures, but also their value in the search for the Truth, from which derive justice and mutual love.
The decision was thus made to meet every three years in Astana, and in the meantime to work harder in the direction indicated by the final declaration. Unfortunately, and perhaps not by chance, the event of this meeting was almost completely ignored by world public opinion, which perennially and repeatedly draws attention to numerous episodes of intolerance that at times have a pseudo-religious pretext.
For our Church in Kazakhstan, too, this meeting presents a new challenge. It is a question of becoming conscious once again of the primary task of mission.

The Catholic Encyclopedia
in Russian
Let us not lose any more opportunities like these, even in the most common expressions of everyday life, so that Christ may be announced to everyone, also in the inevitable confrontation with those who do not know Him yet or have a mistaken idea of Him.
In this sense, a particularly meaningful moment for the Catholic Church, in the framework of these days, was the presentation, strongly desired by the Primate, Archbishop Tomasz Peta, of the first volume of the Russian edition of The Catholic Encyclopedia, edited by the Franciscans, which took place in the Aula Magna of the Eurasian National University (where the Pope had also been), in front of hundreds of students and many leading figures of the cultural world of the Kazakh capital.
Cardinal Tomko, head of the Vatican delegation, after a simple but meaningful address in which he spoke directly to the students, stated that this occasion had strengthened his conviction that the encounter with Christ is possible in Asia, too, contrary to what some people say.
For me, who have been working at this university for three years now, those words sounded more precious than a blessing.