Of all the countries you might expect to take centre stage in the Church’s internal drama, a Muslim-majority former Soviet republic with a minuscule Catholic flock does not seem the most obvious candidate. But last week’s open appeal from three of Kazakhstan’s bishops confirms it: some of the most eloquent voices in defence of Catholic doctrine are coming from Central Asia.
The bishops asked Catholics to pray for Pope Francis, because only he can revoke the pastoral guidelines issued in some countries, which have permitted Communion for the remarried. Such reforms, they said, present Catholic teaching on adultery as an “ideal” rather than a “commandment”. Bishops who teach their flock to downplay that doctrine risk “misleading them or encouraging them to disobey the will of God, and in such way endangering their eternal salvation”.
To those familiar with the bishops in question, the appeal was not entirely surprising. The oldest of the three, Archbishop Paweł Lenga, declared in 2015 that his conscience obliged him to say that too few bishops were “courageously preaching the doctrine of Christ” and “standing firm in the defence of truth and of morals”. Later that year, at the family synod, Archbishop Tomasz Peta quoted Blessed Paul VI’s expression about the “smoke of Satan” entering the Church.
The third, Bishop Athanasius Schneider, has emerged in the last few years as a determined voice for orthodox Catholicism. He is also an enthusiast for the Traditional Latin Mass, and has good relations with the SSPX, whom he has urged to accept a Vatican deal.
Kazakhstan is not a capital-T Traditionalist country: the Extraordinary Form is not especially widely celebrated. But many practices associated with pre-Vatican II liturgy are common. Reception of the Eucharist on the tongue and kneeling is the norm.
Kazakh Catholics “are rather traditional and conservative”, says Fr Paweł Blok, a Polish priest who came to Kazakhstan in 2008. “For us, it means being faithful to Holy Church, to Catholic teaching, to God.” The Eucharist and Our Lady are at the heart of it, he says. “The majority of parishes have daily Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, and we pray the rosary every day in our parishes.”
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