Kazakhstan looks forward to papal visit in September as it marks 30 years of diplomatic relations with Vatican

Pope Francis greets Mukhtar Tileuberdi, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Kazakhstan, at the Vatican, May 30, 2022 Pope Francis greets Mukhtar Tileuberdi, Kazakhstan’s deputy prime minister and foreign minister, at the Vatican, May 30, 2022. | Vatican Media.

Kazakhstan welcomes Pope Francis’ plan to visit the country in September, according to a joint statement issued by the Vatican and the Kazakh government on Tuesday.

The joint communiqué released on May 31 noted that the pope had decided to attend the Congress of Leaders of World and Traditional Religions, taking place in the Kazakh capital Nur-Sultan on Sept. 14-15.

The Vatican first confirmed in April that Pope Francis plans to visit Kazakhstan for the interreligious meeting.

The 85-year-old pope has made public appearances in a wheelchair since May 5 due to knee pain but is scheduled to travel to Africa and Canada in July.

The joint statement said: “The Holy See and the Republic of Kazakhstan agree that a culture of dialogue must be one of the basic values of the contemporary world. The continuation of peaceful coexistence in the face of contemporary challenges is achievable only through an inclusive and comprehensive dialogue.”

“Therefore, Kazakhstan welcomes the decision of Pope Francis to attend the VII Congress of Leaders of World and Traditional Religions, to be held in Nur-Sultan in September 2022, as agreed during the high-level talks between the President of Kazakhstan H.E. Mr. Kassym-Jomart Tokayev and the Pope on April 11, 2022.”

The joint statement looked ahead to the 30th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between the Vatican and Kazakhstan on Oct. 17.

It was signed by Archbishop Paul Gallagher, the Vatican’s equivalent of a foreign minister, and Mukhtar Tileuberdi, Kazakhstan’s deputy prime minister and foreign minister, who met with Pope Francis on May 30.

Kazakhstan has been proposed as a potential venue for a meeting between Pope Francis and Russian Orthodox leader Patriarch Kirill. The Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia is expected to participate in the Congress of the Leaders of World and Traditional Religions.

But Pope Francis said in April that the Vatican had canceled plans for a second meeting between the two leaders because “our diplomacy understood that a meeting of the two of us at this time [of the Russia-Ukraine war] could cause a lot of confusion.”

A potential papal visit to Kazakhstan has been in the works since before the COVID-19 pandemic.

The ambassador of Kazakhstan to the Holy See told EWTN in 2020 that there were “high hopes” that Pope Francis would visit the country to take part in the interreligious congress, which was postponed due to the pandemic.

The first pope to travel to Kazakhstan was John Paul II in September 2001. At 81 years old and suffering from Parkinson’s disease, the Polish pope spent four days in Kazakhstan amid heightened security concerns following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

Kazakhstan is the world’s largest landlocked country, but it has one of the lowest population densities. It shares borders with Russia, China, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan and adjoins part of the Caspian Sea.

The majority of the country’s around 19 million people are Muslims, while Catholics are a small but fervent minority.

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