St. Louis, Mo., Sep 12, 2022 / 17:00 pm
Pope Francis on Monday evening prayed in front of the long-venerated Marian icon of Salus Populi Romani (“Protection of the Roman People”) in Santa Maria Maggiore, entrusting his upcoming trip to Kazakhstan to Mary’s protection.
The pope plans to visit the large, landlocked Asian country — the second pope to do so — Sept. 13–15 for an interreligious meeting. The Kazakhstan-based meeting has been held every three years since 2003 (it was delayed since last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic) and this year expects to host more than 100 delegations of various religions from 60 countries.
Kazakhstan is a majority-Muslim country home to an ethnically diverse minority of Catholics — an estimated 250,000 in total. Most of Kazakhstan’s Catholics are Latin-rite, but there is also an Eastern-rite minority of approximately 3,000 people. St. John Paul II visited the country in 2001 to an enthusiastic welcome.
The people of Kazakhstan were likely first evangelized by Franciscan missionaries in the 13th century. The Catholic population grew thanks to deportations of believers from across the Soviet Union. Religious believers suffered active persecution when it was part of the Soviet Union; today, it is an officially secular state where religious freedom is tolerated.