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
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
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
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
of fundamental importance, and not only for Kazakhstan.
Religions at the service of politics
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
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
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
For me, who have been working at this university for
three years now, those words sounded more precious than a blessing.