Introduction: Bishop Thomas Peta is a missionary—body and soul. He left his Polish homeland as a young priest to work in Kazakhstan. Two years ago he was named Bishop of Astana by the Holy Father and now on May 17, 2003, Archbishop of Astana. He thereby became the Metropolitan of the young Catholic Church provence of Kazakhstan too. Bishop Peta told about the persecutions of the Church in Kazakhstan and about the new meeting center of the Lady of All Nations.
Dear brother bishops, Dear friends who organized this day of prayer, Dear pilgrims,
Kazakhstan has a surface area of more than one million square miles making it the 9th largest country in the world. It is situated between China and the Caspian Sea and is 65 times larger than the Netherlands. Part of Kazakhstan belongs to Europe. Two percent of the 15 million inhabitants are Catholic.
In the past, Kazakhstan was a country of suffering, drenched in the blood and tears of martyrs. In the 1930’s and 1940’s, people belonging to many different nationalities and religions were deported to Kazakhstan’s endless steppes. Among them were also Catholics who, humiliated and beaten and totally without priestly care, held on to their “weapon of prayer”. They relied especially on the Rosary which had to substitute for Holy Mass, the sacraments, the priests and church life. In one Marian song, composed when there was finally freedom of religion again, our faithful sang, “On Kazakhstan’s steppes they have opened the doors for me and greeted me with the Rosary.”
You can imagine what great joy it was for the Catholics in Kazakhstan when Pope John Paul II proclaimed the year of the Rosary.
One of the signs of divine providence and of Mary’s presence is the sanctuary of the Queen of Peace in Osornoje. We call it “the smallest sanctuary in the world”. This village, with its 600 inhabitants, came into existence because of the deportation of the Catholics from the Ukraine in 1936. Beginning on March 25, 1941, the melting snow near the village formed a lake about 5 km in length in three days time. Then it filled with fish in a short period of time. Because of this, people who were deprived of everything to supply the front during the war were saved from starvation. Even trucks and small airplanes came to transport the fish as far away as Karaganda, 300 miles away. This exemplifies beautifully how God answers the prayers and the trust people put in him. The believers saw this great fish catch as a miracle of God’s providence, and today where the “multiplication of the fish” took place there is a statue of Our Lady “Mother of the Fish” who holds in her hands a net full of fish.
Between 1990 and 1993 the people of Osornoje built a church. Following the suggestion of a Dutch priest, Nico Hoogland, it was dedicated to the ‘Queen of Peace’. He also saw to it that Osornoje got a beautiful statue of Mary. Twelve kilometers away from the church a big cross has been erected on the hill ‘Achimbettau’. This arises, as it were, in the center of Eurasia and points to the east and the west, to Hiroshima and Fatima.
It was also in Osornoje that Bishop Jan Pawel Lenga entrusted Kazakhstan and Central Asia each year to the care of the Queen of Peace. Two years ago Pope John Paul II renewed this act of entrustment together with all the bishops and priests of our country and he proclaimed Osornoje Kazakhstan’s national sanctuary.
In my bishop’s seat Astana, the capital of Kazakhstan, near the first Catholic Church, which was built during the time of persecution 1979, is located the meeting center “Mother of All Nations”. It is a response to the apparitions of Amsterdam and also to the words of the Pope when he celebrated Holy Mass in Astana on September 23, 2001, emphasizing in the presence of people of different cultures and religions, “Mary is the Mother of all human beings, just as her Son died on the Cross for all human beings.”
Near this “Meeting Place of the Mother of All Nations” there is the cross of 13 meters in height and the jurta, as the tent is called in which the nomads of Kazakhstan are living and which the pope used during Mass, now a memory of his visit to Astana. The name “House of the Mother of All Nations” has a special meaning in Kazakhstan, as there are more than 120 nationalities living in our country. One hundred and twenty nationalities!
In Kazakhstan, people of different religions and tribes are living together in peace and harmony. It is our firm conviction that this peaceful coexistence is the fruit of the sufferings the martyrs underwent.
I find it always remarkable that those witnesses of this great suffering who are still alive have no feelings of hatred or revenge. By patiently enduring injustice, the persecuted people were led to the peace they had so intensely longed for. The faithful of Kazakhstan are grateful to God that He heard their prayers in their time of suffering.
It is their prayer which is the great strength of the ‘small flock’ of Catholics, who only comprise about 2% of the 15 million inhabitants of the country. In all the parishes of Kazakhstan the Rosary is said daily. In many parishes there is Eucharistic adoration every day (for at least half an hour). In the Cathedral of Astana there is Perpetual Adoration for already more than one year.
When introducing the new church structure in Kazakhstan on May 17 of this year, the pope surprised us to our great joy by adding ‘the most holy Virgin Mary’ to our new archdiocese of Astana. Praying together with Mary, the Queen of Peace, who is the official patroness of Kazakhstan since 1934, we face the future with confidence. The prayer is the strength of the weak and of those who put their trust in the Father of humanity and the nations.
In the hymn in honor of the Queen of Peace we sing:
Pray! God will grant you his grace.
Pray! All people put your trust in Him
Pray! And seek the Kingdom of God
Pray! And all will be given to you