Cardinal Parolin ahead of Pope’s Kazakhstan visit: ‘War is never inevitable’

On the eve of Pope Francis’ Apostolic Journey to Kazakhstan, the Vatican Secretary of State looks at the war in Ukraine with hopes that the Congress of Leaders of World and Traditional Religions, which the Pope will attend, might become an opportunity for encounter and dialogue, and underscores the fruitful diplomatic relations between the Holy See and Kazakhstan.

By Massimiliano Menichetti

Everything is ready on the eve of Pope Francis’ 38th Apostolic Journey outside Italy. The destination is Kazakhstan and participation in the VII Congress of the Leaders of World and Traditional Religions. The international background of the event includes the ongoing, tragic war in Ukraine and many other conflicts around the world.

Once again, Pope Francis at Sunday’s Angelus in St. Peter’s Square asked for everyone to continue praying the people suffering from the war in Ukraine. He also thanked those involved in the journey’s preparations who have made possible this trip to the former Soviet republic of Kazakhstan, where the focus will be on the capital, Nur-Sultan.

The predominantly Muslim country is home to a small Catholic community that awaits the arrival of the Pope with hope. The busy program is condensed into three days with five addresses he will give. 

Ahead of the Pope’s departure on Tuesday, Cardinal Secretary of State Pietro Parolin sat down with Vatican Media to explore various themes of the Journey.

Q: Cardinal Parolin, how would you describe the purpose of this visit? 

The Holy Father Francis is traveling to Kazakhstan, on 13-15 September, to participate in the 7th Congress of the Leaders of World and Traditional Religions, at the invitation of the President of the Republic Kassym-Jomart Tokayev. The event will be attended by a number of religious leaders from various parts of the world.

From its beginnings, the Congress has taken as its model the Day of Prayer for World Peace, convened in Assisi by Pope St. John Paul II on 24 January 2002, to reaffirm the positive contribution of different religious traditions to dialogue, harmony and concord among peoples. The motto of the papal journey reflects this theme, “Messengers of Peace and Unity,” as does the logo, which features a dove with an olive branch. The paths of the papal visit are clear.

I would also like to note that the draft Final Declaration of the Congress gives special emphasis to the document on “Human Fraternity for World Peace and Living Together,” signed by Pope Francis and Dr. Ahmad Al-Tayyeb, the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar, in Abu Dhabi on 4 February 2019.

Q: Peace and unity are emphasized in the motto of the journey; peace is also at the center of the work of the Congress. Yet, in the heart of Europe, the war in Ukraine continues, as well as conflicts in many other areas of the world. Many speak of the inevitability of war, but are there really no other ways forward?

War is never an inescapable event. It has its roots in the heart of the human person, driven by vainglory, pride, arrogance and greed, as the Church Fathers used to say. Such a heart is a hardened heart, unable to open up to others.

War can be avoided by stepping back, laying down accusations and threats, causes of mutual distrust. Unfortunately, these days the ability to listen and efforts to understand the logic of those who think differently from us has decreased at all levels.

I hope, therefore, that the upcoming Congress in Kazakhstan will become an opportunity for encounter and dialogue. Quoting Pope Pius XII, it is good to be reminded that honorable success is never precluded when we discuss with good will and with respect for each other’s rights.

Q: How would you describe the three decades of diplomatic relations between Kazakhstan and the Holy See?

The diplomatic relations between the Holy See and the Republic of Kazakhstan could be characterized with two words: frequent and fruitful. Suffice it to mention that the Holy See has always actively participated at all of the Congresses, and has been represented by a high-level Delegation, led by a Cardinal and this time by the Holy Father himself.

Kazakhstan was the first Central Asian country to sign a Bilateral Agreement with the Holy See in 1998. It was also the first Central Asian country to be visited by Pope St. John Paul II in September 2001. The Holy See and Kazakhstan continue to work together. This is shown by the fact that during the recent visit to the Vatican by Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs H.E. Mukhtar Tileuberdi, a Memorandum of Understanding was signed between the University Medical Center of Kazakhstan and the Bambino Gesù Children’s Hospital; also a Memorandum of Understanding between the R.B. Suleimenov Institute of Oriental Studies and the Vatican Library and Archives.

This year marks the 30th anniversary of diplomatic relations. On this occasion and in conjunction with Pope Francis’ visit, we are hoping to sign a Supplementary Agreement on the issuance of visas and residence permits to foreign missionaries serving in Kazakhstan.

Q: The small local Catholic Church finds itself immersed in a context of eighteen officially registered religions, and is speaking of this time as a historic visit. The Pope brings hope. This has been a land of martyrdom and is still a frontier where the challenge of coexistence is being lived out. How would you describe those hopes today?

The papal visit to Kazakhstan also includes moments dedicated to the local Catholic community, such as the celebration of Mass in the Expo Square and the meeting with the bishops, clergy, consecrated persons, seminarians and pastoral workers, which will be held at the Mother of God of Perpetual Help Cathedral in Nur-Sultan.

The Catholic Church is highly valued and represents a small but significant reality, within an extremely diverse religious-cultural landscape. The local Church will certainly feel encouraged by the Pope’s presence and encouragement to renew itself in faith, hope and charity.

It will continue its mission of giving witness, also following the examples of so many witnesses to the faith in previous years, such as Blessed Fr. Władysław Bukowiński, Blessed Fr. Alexis Zaryckyj and Blessed Bishop Mykyta Budka. They can contribute together with other religious groups to build a united, harmonious and peaceful society.

Q: The small local Catholic Church finds itself immersed in a context of eighteen officially registered religions, and is speaking of this time as a historic visit. The Pope brings hope. This has been a land of martyrdom and is still a frontier where the challenge of coexistence is being lived out. How would you describe those hopes today?

The papal visit to Kazakhstan also includes moments dedicated to the local Catholic community, such as the celebration of Mass in the Expo Square and the meeting with the bishops, clergy, consecrated persons, seminarians and pastoral workers, which will be held at the Mother of God of Perpetual Help Cathedral in Nur-Sultan.

The Catholic Church is highly valued and represents a small but significant reality, within an extremely diverse religious-cultural landscape. The local Church will certainly feel encouraged by the Pope’s presence and encouragement to renew itself in faith, hope and charity.

It will continue its mission of giving witness, also following the examples of so many witnesses to the faith in previous years, such as Blessed Fr. Władysław Bukowiński, Blessed Fr. Alexis Zaryckyj and Blessed Bishop Mykyta Budka. They can contribute together with other religious groups to build a united, harmonious and peaceful society.