Austrian father in Kazakhstan: We are becoming more open

Francis visits a church in transition in Kazakhstan. This was told by the religious Leopold Kropfreiter, who has worked in northern Kazakhstan for 15 years. “We are becoming more open to the actual population of Kazakhstan, who are traditionally Muslim,” the Austrian said.

Gudrun Sailer – Nur-Sultan

Father Leopold Kropfreiter belongs to the religious community of “Servants of Jesus and Mary”, he helped prepare the Pope’s visit to Nur-Sultan and celebrated at the Holy Mass. Having Pope Francis here is “a really big thing” for the faithful in Kazakhstan, the Father said.

Father Leopold Kropfreiter: It is also a sign of solidarity with a church that is very small, less than one percent of the country’s population Catholics, a diaspora. That’s why it’s a really big event for us, we just feel like we’re growing together and everyone is helping to make it really work.

Radio Vatican: What do Kazakh believers value in Pope Francis and where do they find it difficult at the moment? Where does the Pope overwhelm the faithful in the country?

Father Leopold Kropfreiter: It is different. Rome is far away, but fundamentally there is a very, very positive relationship with Peter’s successor. In every congregation, prayers are not only for the Pope during Mass, but also during the rosary. The belief is so deep in the population that this bond is very strong. As for current events or papal announcements, the connection is often not that great, also because Russian translations are often difficult. Vatican Radio is also in Russian, which is nice, but generally it’s not really received at the moment. Overall, there is a very loving relationship with the Holy Father in Rome.

P. Leopold Kroprfreiter in front of a yurt, the traditional dwelling of the nomads in Kazakhstan




P. Leopold Kroprfreiter in front of a yurt, the traditional dwelling of the nomads in Kazakhstan

Radio Vatican: You have been here for 15 years, the church has started to change over time, many believers of German and Polish origin have migrated. And today?

Father Leopold Kropfreiter: The structure becomes smaller. At the same time, and this is the good thing, we are becoming more open to the actual population of Kazakhstan, the local population, the Kazakhs, who are traditionally Muslim. It is nice to see how baptisms and conversions gradually take place, of people who were actually very far from the Catholic Church. Muslims are often very traditional. How they came into contact with the Catholic Church and found their vocation is something new. This is where we realize that the path to the future is already opening.

Fr. Leopold Kroprfreiter at the Catholic school in Korneewka, North Kazakhstan




Fr. Leopold Kroprfreiter at the Catholic school in Korneewka, North Kazakhstan

Radio Vatican: How can faith score here?

Father Leopold Kropfreiter: Christ is incredibly attractive in himself. He who gets to know him is first delighted. This splendor and beauty, we are used to it sometimes and may have almost forgotten it, but the people who come from afar experience it very intensely. This is also an important step for us towards our own conversion, to rediscover the beauty of our faith and the beauty of God.

Vatican Radio: What is the best thing that could happen as a result of the Pope’s visit?

Father Leopold Kropfreiter: Our hope is that we will simply come into much more intensive contact with the people of Kazakhstan. We already experienced this during the preparations – such a close relationship with the government employees, who make an incredible effort to ensure that it works well. We can really work hand in hand with people who have nothing to do with the Catholic Church, but here we work together. I believe that this contact will bear fruit for the future.

Radio Vatican: Does it mean to you and many others here – learn Kazakh?

Father Leopold Kropfreiter: Absolutely!

(Vatican News – gs)

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