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Bishop Schneider: Catholics in Kazakhstan are safe amid unrest

Bishop Athanasius Schneider. / Monegasque2 via Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 4.0).

Astana, Kazakhstan, Jan 8, 2022 / 04:45 am (CNA).

Bishop Athanasius Schneider said on Saturday that Catholics in Kazakhstan are safe amid unprecedented unrest in the Central Asian country.

Schneider, an auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Maria Santissima in Astana, issued the message on his Twitter account on Jan. 8.

“The Catholics in Kazakhstan are thanks to God safe,” he wrote. “In our churches we continue to celebrate the Holy Mass, doing Eucharistic Adoration and praying particularly for peace in our country and for harmony in the social live, which the Kazakh people desire.”

Protests broke out in the nation of almost 19 million people on Jan. 2 after a steep rise in gas prices.

Demonstrations began in the city of Zhanaozen and spread to other urban areas, including the country’s largest city, Almaty.

President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev declared a nationwide state of emergency and summoned troops from the Collective Security Treaty Organization, an alliance comprising Russia and allied states.

Tokayev ordered security forces to “fire without warning,” the BBC reported on Jan. 7.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken called the day before for “a peaceful, rights-respecting resolution to the crisis.”

Kazakhstan, the world’s largest landlocked country, is a Muslim majority nation neighboring Russia, China, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan. There is a sizable Russian Orthodox minority.

The country has an estimated 250,000 Catholics, many of whom are ethnic Poles, Germans, and Lithuanians. The Catholic population rose considerably as a result of deportations under Soviet leader Joseph Stalin.

Most of Kazakhstan’s Catholics are Latin Rite, but there is also an Eastern Rite minority of around 3,000 people.

John Paul II became the first pope to visit Kazakhstan in 2001. Pope Francis was reportedly considering a trip to the country before the outbreak of the pandemic.

In recent years, Kazakhstan has emerged as a bastion of traditionalist Catholicism. Bishop Schneider has gained an international profile through his advocacy of traditional liturgical practices such as Communion on the tongue.

He was one of three bishops in Kazakhstan who signed a “Profession of the immutable truths about sacramental marriage” in 2017.

In 2019, Schneider joined Cardinal Raymond Burke in backing a 40-point “Declaration of Truths”.

Schneider signed an “Appeal for the Church and the World” regarding the coronavirus pandemic in 2020. He defended the document against critics who said it was marked by conspiracy theories.