NUR-SULTAN, Kazakhstan (CNS) – Arriving in Kazakhstan, a country bordering Russia, Pope Francis said he had come as a “pilgrim of peace” at a time when “our world urgently needs peace; she needs to find harmony.

“I visit you during the senseless and tragic war that erupted with the invasion of Ukraine, even as other conflicts and threats of conflict continue to jeopardize our time,” the pope said. September 13 in a speech to the president of the country. civil authorities, representatives of civic groups and members of the diplomatic corps.

“I have come to echo the call of all those crying out for peace, which is the essential path for the development of our globalized world,” he said.

After a nearly seven-hour flight from Rome, Pope Francis has arrived in the capital, Nur-Sultan, where he will attend the Congress of World and Traditional Religions from September 14-15. Upon arrival in Kazakh airspace, his plane was escorted by fighter jets.

Arriving at the presidential palace, Pope Francis, who continues to suffer from knee pain, remained seated as Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev stood beside him as an honor guard played the national anthems of the Vatican City State and Kazakhstan.

Welcoming the pope, President Tokayev thanked him for his “tireless and dedicated efforts on behalf of the human family throughout the world” at a “critical moment in human history”.

As Islamophobia, anti-Semitism and Christian persecution continue to rise, the president said “humanity could really go one way or the other if we are not vigilant.”

“I think it is high time for moderates from different cultures and religions to pool their wisdom and energy to unite people behind the ideas of peace, social harmony and mutual support,” he said. declared.

Tokayev said the pope’s presence at the interreligious meeting would ensure its success “and breathe true joy and happiness into the hearts of all devout Catholics in Kazakhstan and beyond.”

Responding to the president and addressing civil leaders, the pope reflected on the two-stringed “dombra,” a traditional Kazakh musical instrument, and noted its use for centuries, “thus connecting the past with the present.”

“As a symbol of continuity in diversity, its rhythm accompanies the memory of your country,” he said. “It is thus a reminder of how important it is, in the context of today’s rapid economic and social changes, not to neglect the ties that bind us to the lives of those who have gone before us.”

Because of its history, Saint John Paul II considered Kazakhstan a “land of martyrs and believers, land of deportees and heroes, land of intellectuals and artists”, he said.

This story, the pope said, is one of “culture, humanity and suffering,” especially during the Soviet era that brought prison camps and mass deportations.

Nevertheless, “the Kazakhs did not allow themselves to be prisoners of these injustices”, declared the pope. “The memory of your isolation has led to a deep concern for inclusion.”

“In this land, crossed since ancient times by great movements of peoples, may the memory of the sufferings and trials you have endured be an indispensable element of your journey towards the future, encouraging you to give absolute priority to the human dignity, to the dignity of every man and woman, and of every ethnic, social and religious group,” he added.

Noting the hundreds of ethnicities peacefully coexisting in Kazakhstan, the pope said he was honored to participate in the Congress of World and Traditional Religions to “underline the importance and urgency of this aspect of the encounter, to which religions are particularly called to contribute”. .”

He also hailed Kazakhstan’s constitution, which defines the country as a “secular state” and, therefore, “provides for freedom of religion and belief.”

“A healthy secularism, which recognizes the important and indispensable role of religion and resists the forms of extremism which disfigure it, represents an essential condition for the equal treatment of each citizen, while fostering a feeling of loyalty to the country. from all its ethnic, linguistic, cultural and religious groups,” he said.

Freedom also recognizes basic human rights, the pope said, praising the country’s abolition of the death penalty “in the name of every human being’s right to hope.”

The pope hailed Kazakhstan’s commitment to peace and expressed appreciation for the country’s “decisive repudiation of nuclear weapons” as well as its environmental policies that invest in clean energy sources.

“With a commitment to interreligious dialogue, these are concrete seeds of hope sown in the common soil of humanity,” Pope Francis said. “It is up to us to cultivate these seeds for the sake of future generations, for the young, whose wishes must be seriously considered when making decisions affecting the present and the future.”

***

Follow Arocho on Twitter: @arochoju