As tensions rise in neighbouring Afghanistan, the local Catholic community opens a convent dedicated to Saint John Paul II. During the inauguration, the Virgin of Luján, patroness of Argentina, was carried in procession, an unusual event for Central Asia.
Buenos Aires (AsiaNews) – Tajikistan celebrated National Unity Day on 27 June. This year’s observance coincided with the opening of the country’s first Catholic monastery of contemplative life, an unusual occurrence in Central Asia.
The Virgin of Luján, patroness of Argentina, was carried on a platform during a short but meaningful procession marking the event.
The “religious family” of the Institute of the Incarnate Word (IVE) is responsible for the new monastery that bears the name of Saint John Paul II in homage to the pontiff who promoted the missions in Central Asia at a time when communism still prevented the public expression of the faith.
“This monastery is providential because it was created before the problems with Afghanistan started,” said Fr Pedro López, priest responsible for Catholics in Tajikistan, speaking to AsiaNews.
“For us,” added the clergyman, the monastery “has great meaning because nuns in the mission are praying for the fruits of the apostolates carried out where we are working. This is quite appropriate, to use plain language, at a time of conflict. This is a very great privilege.”
Four IVE nuns – originally from Uzbekistan, Paraguay and Argentina – arrived recently in Dushanbe to settle in their new home, a few metres from the St Joseph parish church, one of the only two Catholic churches in the country.
The religious sisters joined the local Catholic community, about 120 people in a country of almost nine million inhabitants, who live their faith together with Fr López, another priest (both from Argentina), and three active nuns.
All of them belong to the Institute of the Incarnate Word, a charism that together with the Sisters of Charity are the Catholic face in this Muslim-majority land.
The Catholic Church has been present in Tajikistan since the late 1970s when Catholic priests and laity deported under Stalin regime arrived in the then Soviet republic.
When they returned to their native countries in the 1990s, they left two buildings and a small community of Sisters of Teresa of Calcutta, the only Catholic presence until a priest of the Incarnate Word arrived in 1997.
The new monastery was founded during a Mass celebrated by the Apostolic Administrator of Uzbekistan, Father Jerzy Maculewicz, which culminated in a sacramental gesture common in this type of ceremony in the West, but totally unusual in Tajik culture, namely an image of the Virgin was taken in procession to be enthroned in the monastery.
The group of nuns and believers accompanied the Virgin singing and praying on a walk of no more than 50 metres. In this case it was the Virgin in her dedication to Our Lady of Luján, patroness of Argentina and IVE missions, established in this Latin American country.
“It was also emotional for people because such things are not seen in these countries, unlike European or Latin American Christian nations. Here, despite no explicit prohibitions, it is not customary to make public demonstrations of the faith,” Father López said.
[*] Instituto del Verbo Encarnado, a religious institute founded in Argentina.