.- The Cathedral of Our Lady of Fatima was consecrated in the city of Karaganda in Kazakhstan on Sunday, marking the rise of Christianity in a region that once hosted camps for victims of Soviet persecution.
Bishop Janusz Kaleta of Karaganda voiced “great joy for a real cathedral.” He told Fides news agency that the large church will be “a place of prayer and a visible sign to attract new faithful to the Christian faith.”
Cardinal Angelo Sodano, the dean of the College of Cardinals, served as Pope Benedict XVI’s legate to the ceremony. He concelebrated the dedication Mass of the gothic-style church with Bishop Kaleta and others. Over 1,500 attended the event, including Catholic faithful, Orthodox Christian leaders, Muslim leaders, and local civil authorities.
Fr. Piotr Pytlowany, rector of the Diocese of Karaganda’s seminary, said the achievement is “the fruits of the martyrs and the suffering that Christians lived in the past in these lands.”
“We entrust the Catholic community in Kazakhstan, and in all the countries of the former Soviet Union, to the special protection of the Virgin of Fatima, who has already worked miracles,” he said.
One such miracle, the priest said, was the support from the local government for the project.
Under Soviet rule, Kazakhstan became a place of deportation. Karaganda once was the center for a web of “Karlag” concentration camps for victims of religious and political oppression.
Soviet authorities sent thousands of Catholics of Polish, Ukrainian and German nationality, as well as those from Lithuania and Belarus, to the region.
In an April 2012 pastoral letter about the new cathedral’s dedication, the Catholic bishops said Karaganda earned “hideous notoriety” as a place of “repression and banishment, for everyone and everyone, of whatever nationality, ethnic group or religious denomination, who dared to challenge atheistic materialism.”
“From the tragic depths of those dark and difficult years of atheism and religious persecution, Karaganda and its surroundings was illuminated with the shining light of the numerous priests who lived, worked and finally died here,” the bishops continued.
They noted the lives of Bl. Nikita Budek, bishop and martyr, and the martyred priest Bl. Alexis Zaritzki.
The bishops said that the first Bishop of Karaganda, John-Paul Lenga, concluded that it was “absolutely imperative” to erect a new cathedral.
He thought the new cathedral should “stand as an epitaph to the memory of all the victims of the Karlag and be a place of prayer and expiation for the countless crimes perpetrated by a totalitarian and godless regime in Karaganda and Kazakhstan against Jesus Christ and against human dignity.”
The festivities surrounding the opening of the cathedral included a concert performance of Mozart’s “Requiem” which was dedicated to the camp victims. Cardinal Sodano celebrated Mass in the Cathedral of St. Joseph.