.- Central Asia's only Catholic seminary welcomed a dozen young men, aged 16 to 23, from various parishes in the Archdiocese of Astana for a three-day discernment weekend.
Mary, Mother of the Church Seminary hosted the young men, from Nov. 10 to 12. The goal of the exposure program, conducted twice a year, is to give prospective seminarians a better idea of priesthood and the preparation for it. This was the program’s 10th weekend.
Participants took part in joint prayers, masses, adoration and recollections. They also attended a theology class. They also heard stories about persecution of Catholics at the hands of the Soviet communists.
They visited the new cathedral that is being built in Karaganda and a new parish church, dedicated to Blessed Aleksey Zaritskiy, a martyr who died in a Soviet labor camp near Karaganda.
Fr. Andrzej Szensni, a priest from Karaganda, also told them about Fr. Vladislaw Bukovinski, who was in prison 13 years before dying with a rosary in his hand.
During the 1930s and 1940s, the Soviet government sent thousands of people to Kazakhstan and Siberia to work in labor camps if they were found guilty of following a religion or committing political crimes, or suspected of being disloyal to the regime.
The seminary currently has 18 seminarians. Five entered this year. Some of the current seminarians attribute their decision to enter the seminary to the exposure program.
Kazakhstan has about 250,000 Catholics, many of them ethnic Poles. Another 7,000 belong to the Oriental-rite Greek Catholic Church. Muslims account for about 60 percent of the country's population of more than 15 million, and another 30 percent are members of the Russian Orthodox Church.