Francis, 85, made the trip despite what appeared to be an aggravation of the strained knee ligaments that have severely reduced his mobility throughout the year. Francis struggled to walk down the aisle of the plane during the 6.5-hour flight from Rome, and he appeared tired and in pain as he limped heavily with his cane and surrendered to a wheelchair for most of the city’s events. . Doctors have told him that onward travel – to Kiev, for example – is out of the question for the time being.
Upon his arrival, Francis spoke before the government authorities and diplomats gathered in the Qazaq concert hall, praising Kazakhstan’s commitment to diversity and dialogue and the progress made after decades of Stalinist repression, when Kazakhstan was the destination of hundreds of thousands of Soviets. -deportees.
Francis said the country, which borders Russia to the north and China to the east and is home to some 150 ethnic groups and 80 languages, now has a “fundamental role to play” in helping to alleviate conflict elsewhere.
Recalling that St. John Paul II visited Kazakhstan just days after the September 11, 2001 attacks in the US, Francis said he was visiting “in the course of the senseless and tragic war that broke out with the invasion of Ukraine.”
“I have come to reiterate the advocacy of all who call for peace, the essential path to development for our globalized world,” he said.
He focused on global powers and said expanding diplomacy and dialogue efforts was becoming increasingly important. “And those who have more power in the world have a greater responsibility towards others, especially those countries most prone to unrest and conflict.”
“Now is the time to stop intensifying rivalry and strengthening opposing blocs,” he said.
Tokayev did not specifically mention Ukraine in his prepared remarks to Francis. But in English, he spoke in general terms of humanity on the brink of an abyss as geopolitical tensions escalate, the global economy suffers and rising religious and ethnic bigotry becomes the ‘new normal’.
Kazakhstan has had to walk a thin line with the war. Tokayev has vowed to respect Western sanctions against Russia while maintaining close ties with Moscow, a key economic partner and ally. At the same time, Tokayev refused to recognize the Russian-backed separatist “people’s republics” in Ukraine, which Moscow recognized just days before the invasion of Ukraine.
The salient aspects of Francis’ visit to Kazakhstan could come down to missed opportunities with both Russia and China: Francis is said to have met the head of the Russian Orthodox Church on the sidelines of the conference. But Patriarch Kirill, who has supported the war in Ukraine, canceled his trip last month.
Francis will also be in the Kazakh capital at the same time as Chinese President Xi Jinping, who is making his first foreign trip since the start of the coronavirus pandemic.
The Vatican and China have had no diplomatic ties for half a century and the timing is somewhat tense as the two sides finalize the renewal of a controversial agreement over the appointment of Catholic bishops in China.
The Vatican has said there are currently no plans for a meeting between Xi and Francis while they were both in Kazakhstan and Kazakh Deputy Foreign Minister Roman Vassilenko said he did not believe there was time in Xi’s schedule to meet Francis. to meet.
Asked about the possibility on the way to Nur-Sultan, Francis said: “I have no news about this. But I am always ready to go to China.”
Now in its seventh edition, the Interfaith Congress is a showpiece of Kazakhstan’s foreign policy and a reflection of its own multicultural and multi-ethnic population that has long been touted as a crossroads between East and West.
When John Paul II visited in 2001, ten years after independence, he emphasized the diversity of Kazakhstan and recalled its dark past under Stalinist repression: from 1936, entire villages of ethnic Poles were massively deported from western Ukraine to Kazakhstan, and the Soviet government deported hundreds of thousands of ethnic Germans, Chechens, and other accused Nazi collaborators to Kazakhstan during World War II. Many of the descendants of the deportees have remained, and some of them make up the country’s Catholic community, which numbers only about 125,000 in a country of nearly 19 million.
Sophia Gatovskaya, a parishioner at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Cathedral in the capital, said she attended that first papal visit and it continues to bear fruit to this day.
“It was actually great. And after this visit, we will have peace and tolerance in our republic. We have many nationalities in Kazakhstan and we all live together. And we expect the same from this visit (from Pope Francis) that we will have peace in our republic. And we very much expect that the war in Ukraine will end.”
Associated Press religious coverage is supported by the AP’s partnership with The Conversation US, with funding from Lilly Endowment Inc. The AP is solely responsible for this content.