In Kazakhstan, despite some stereotypes still difficult to break about the religious affiliation of the country’s various ethnic groups, this mentality is slowly changing, explains Fr. Ruslan Rakhimberlinov, first Kazakh rector of the only seminary in Central Asia, whose father is Muslim and the Orthodox mother. Prof. Ruslan now leads the Karaganda Seminary, which he entered two years after being baptized, and thanks God for the grace of Pope Francis’ 38th Apostolic Visit Abroad to the nation.
By Deborah Castellano Lubov
“I am a priest who comes from this nation, from this nationality, because my father’s name is Kazakh and my mother is from Ukraine – but we Kazakhs always count nationality by father, so I feel and I consider myself a Kazakh,” says the father. Ruslan Rakhimberlinov of Karaganda, Kazakhstan, as he anticipates the arrival of Pope Francis in Nur-Sultan on Tuesday.
Pr. Ruslan, 39, was recently appointed as the new rector of the Catholic Theological Seminary of Kazakhstan, the only Catholic seminary in Central Asia and the first ethnically Kazakh rector to lead it.
The visit of Pope Francis, an opportunity
He had been baptized into the Catholic Church just two years before Pope John Paul II visited Kazakhstan in 2001.
For Pope Francis’ visit to be the second time a pope has visited “our Church” in these years since Kazakhstan’s independence, Kazakhstan, he says, “is a double joy for our seminary community “.
First Kazakh priest in the country
It should also be noted that Fr. Ruslan is the first Kazakh priest in the country.
“I was introduced to the Catholic Church when I was about 15,” he says.
“When I was 15-16,” he recalls, “I first encountered the Catholic Church. I was baptized on Easter Sunday in 1999.
Two years later, feeling called to a vocation and encouraged by his friend, relatives and the priest who was its rector, Ruslan decided to enter the seminary of Karaganda.
Challenging long-held stereotypes
In 2008, after years of training, he was ordained a priest during the celebration of the feast of Saints Peter and Paul on June 29.
All these years he served as a priest in various parishes of Kazakhstan, in particular in the diocese of Karaganda.
With his baptism and priestly ordination, he hints that he has challenged long-standing prejudices that are quite common in Kazakhstan and have often fueled mistrust between different religious communities.
More respect for freely choosing one’s religion
Prof. Ruslan, however, is grateful to see this mentality slowly changing.
Need to recognize the Gospel in Kazakhstan
Pope Francis, he goes on to explain, will find in Kazakhstan “a Church that knows the idea of synodality and puts it into practice,” because “we all realize here that the community of Catholics in Kazakhstan is a small flock. “
Catholics represent barely 1% of the 19 million Kazakhs in Kazakhstan.
The country is about 70% Muslim and 26% Christian, mainly Russian Orthodox.
“We are few in number, so we priests, and also men and women religious, know that our future, as Church, does not depend only on priests and deacons. It is very important to us that the laity, that is to say our faithful, understand very well what their responsibility is for the Church in Kazakhstan, the Church of the future.
Impulse for a richer dialogue
The rector explained how the seminary community is preparing for the Pope’s visit and what impresses the future priests of Kazakhstan the most in the teaching of Pope Francis.
To prepare for the Pope’s visit, the seminary prepares itself spiritually, with a few prayer groups and meetings in parishes, taking into account in particular the teaching of Pope Francis.
Prof. Ruslan expresses special appreciation for Pope Francis’ latest encyclical, Fratelli tuttisaying “we are very close to the dialogue between all our brothers, because in Kazakhstan so many different religions are represented.
One-on-one time with Pope Francis
The seminarians, relayed the rector, cannot wait for their personal meeting with Pope Francis on September 15, where they will have “a unique opportunity – for many of them perhaps the only one in their lives – to meet face to face with against Pope Francis. from Rome.
Speaking of the Karaganda seminary as being the only Catholic seminary in all of Central Asia, he told us about its future priests.
Each seminarian, he says, carries a particle of the culture, a particle of the people from which he comes; “there is this enrichment: everyone shares something”. This “grace” and “wealth,” he says, helps seminarians.
Grace of God, embrace with faith
Although he recognizes some difficulties in understanding and accepting himself, God’s grace helps him overcome any misunderstandings.
“It is a richness, because these 10 students come from different countries and enrich each other by preparing for the future ministry of the People of God in their country.”
As rector of the seminary serving several countries, he feels a certain weight on him, but assumes the responsibility with faith.
Trust in the providence of God
“It’s a big responsibility for me, but on the other hand, it’s also an opportunity to serve our Church here in Kazakhstan, to do something with what God has given me,” the father said. Ruslan said.
If the rector admits to seeing challenges, he is not afraid of them.