ACN News, Thursday, 24rd April 2008 - KAZAKHSTANAs an aside, Bishop Schneider has been the topic of news in other posts at Te Deum Laudamus!
History in the making
Central Asian republic awaits an ordination quite unlike any other
By John Pontifex
CATHOLICS in Kazakhstan are preparing for the ordination of what Church leaders believe is the first priest to come from the country’s native population in modern times.
Up to 80 percent of Catholic priests and most of the faithful in the central Asian republic are foreigners with the rest made up of descendants of immigrants.
As a result, their outreach to the country’s native people is severely hampered but if all goes to plan the situation could change dramatically when on 29th June 25-year-old Ruslan Rakhimberlinov, a teenage convert to Catholicism, is ordained.
In an interview with Aid to the Church in Need, Ruslan’s bishop, Athanasius Schneider of Karaganda, central Kazakhstan explained: “This is a very historic event – the first ever.”
With his Mongolian physical features as is typical among natives in Kazakhstan, Ruslan is expected to make a big impression in a country where often the Catholic Church is often seen as very foreign.
Bishop Schneider, who will preside at the ordination ceremony, said: “I do not expect there will be an immediate reaction but when the people see him, they will I am sure become accustomed to him.”
For Bishop Schneider, the ordination is hugely important: “The Church has yet to be properly implanted and this is only possible with clergy native to Kazakhstan.”
Today’s Catholic community is made up of descendants of people from Lithuania, Poland and Ukraine, who were deported to Kazakhstan during the Soviet era. Bishop Schneider said that around Karaganda there was a concentration camp and a series of control centres about the size of France.
Hence the wide gulf in society in Kazakhstan.
The soon-to-be Fr Ruslan can expect to find valuable support from three Sisters in a Carmelite convent in Karaganda diocese, who are also native to Kazakhstan.
The bishop explained that in a mainly Muslim country like Kazakhstan, the Church had to be very careful about charges of forcing, or coercing people to convert to Christianity.
“I hope and I am convinced that the Catholic faith will be more widely present in Kazakhstan but we have to proceed with caution. It is something to work on in the future.”
He stressed the shortage of priests in Kazakhstan saying that his top priority was to promote vocations.
Bishop Schneider explained that as a boy Ruslan and his family lived near a convent and over time he and his family developed an interest in Christianity until they all converted. [continue reading at ACN...]
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