First missionary people even martyrs were Franciscan and Dominican Fathers traveling same famous "Silk way" as Marco Polo to China. We know about mission on Balkhash See. One of martyrs was Brother Angel in middle Ages. The most catholic settlements were opened in Russian Empire times. We have old church buildings in Petropavlovsk in north Kazakhstan on transsiberian way and in Alma-Aty. Also capital of Uzbekistan has 100 years old new gothic church. The time of flourishing mission came these days because of so many new settlements established as result of massive forced migration of Volga-Germans and Polish roots people from Ukraine. I was reading these dates in some booklet prepared on occasion of John Paul II visit. In that time some of Roman and Greek Catholic martyrs as Fr. Kaszuba...
Kazakhstan, similarly as three Baltic countries, three in Caucasus and Ukraine, was inviting Pope, to show for all the world that they are independent countries and they respect the role which John Paul II played asking ever for some other much more human face of all the soviet countries. Russia same time was more and more unfriendly to Vatican. Moslem majority in Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan were expecting Pope with enthusiasm. It was same or similar enthusiasm as in Protestant Latvia, Orthodox Georgia, Ukraine or Monophisitic Armenia.
When you realize it, you have to be surprised by position of Moscow, but in many private talks of Orthodox people you may feel very special phobia against Polish roots Pope, which "destroyed Soviet Empire". Moscow, even orthodox hierarchy is still dreaming about restoring imperial position in all former soviet republics and do not tolerate Vatican presence on so called "canonical territories" of Orthodox church.
Who established such territorial cannons difficult to understand. Perhaps Russian Emperors, but mentioned Republics have nothing in their tradition and history which may attract them back to Moscow.
Pope landed in Kazakhstan in last decade of September 2001, two weeks after terrorist attacks in USA. It was just same time when Americans were planning to start their war in Afghanistan and wished that Pope stay home, to be safe. Pope wished never to be safer than others. He deeply wished to see Kazakhstan people, because in the past Kazakhstan became second homeland for so many poor and innocent Catholics, that same as Siberia may be called Holly Land of Catholic martyrs. He was walking very slowly to small altar on the main square in Astana. About 100 priests and perhaps 30.000 people came from all the Middle Asia and Siberia to meet him. He was looking very tired. His legs were moving slowly. He was praying Mass in very good Russian. His speech was partially in Russian, Kazakh, Polish and German.
Talking Polish he mentioned fr. Bukowinski, missionary priest who spent all his life as a priest in prisons of Kazakhstan, but ever being short time in freedom he returned working in local communities risking much his life. They meet each other during Cardinal Wojtyla ministering in Krakow and just before fr. Bukowinski death. It is why pope knew so good the soul of priests and lay Catholics in Kazakhstan. He came to venerate them and give his respect to all the nation of that huge Middle Asian country.
1. Kazaks in Nowocherkassk
In Novocherkassk I had the very first celebration in the big Hall of Officers House (in the past it was Orthodox Seminary there). Main celebrant was Archbishop Kondrusiewicza, concelebrant fr. Jan Zaniewski Salezian Priest from Moscow. There were about 11 local Catholics and the choir of African students from Rostov on Don, some sisters. Maximum we were 20 people in the Hall for 500 or even more spectators. The next meeting I same building I took hall for 20 people, but in the moment of starting celebration there were only 7 participants. It was solemn date of Assumption, Patron day in the parish. After ten minutes came the old Nelly Josifovna with another 10 people. It was her sons with wives and children.
At the end of the Mass I was talking about opening new Seminary in Moscow and also about registering local community. It needs 10 adult persons with Catholic roots to be registered. It is big effort collecting dates about all the 10 persons and even taking their 10 passports to Regional Office of Ministry of Justice. After one moth of expecting you may got 3 juridical copies and original of your registration statutes, testifying that such and such community has juridical personality and may be recognized in all the country as subject of law.
It was difficult even to me. I was doing such things first time in my life. At first came to me some boy telling that he wishes to be Seminarian. Parish was new, seminary also. To start working Rector Bernardo Antonini was expecting 10 candidates and I wished to help him sending the biggest number possible. After short talk I send one sister with him home to talk with family and prepare his trip if ready during one single week. After talking to him I got nice talk with old lady. Nelly Josifovna was telling me that all of them are native Germans from Kazakhstan, they will go some day to Germany back, but because it take years to prepare naturalization documents she and all her family will do everything possible to help me registering local community. One of her sons was having car, she told me he is at my disposition. All of them may be more than 10 adult persons and they will give their passports to help registering process.
In the end of September I got all documents ready. Nelly Josifovna does everything as she promised. She became good spirit of the parish for about ten years, because so long was naturalization process. She was one of participants in beatification process of her aunt Gertrude. Gertrude was catechist in Karaganda in Soviet times and one of her students was actual bishop in Novosibirsk Joseph Werth. He was telling me personally in August 1999 when I visited Him, about Gertrude's abilities as teacher of religion and Holly woman. Perhaps she was hidden sister, I do not know exactly, but she trained my parishioner the best way possible.
Nelly knew dozens of private prayers. She knew perfectly rosary and prayed daily. When I was trying to make her pleasure telling in German "danke" thank you, she ever corrects me: "you have to tell "VERGELLST GOTT" (thanks God) not DANKE.
I was told that they live happy life in Germany but they still call and ask how local parish is doing. In 1996 they got church back. From that moment the number of parishioner grew up to 200. It is perhaps more than in central city Rostov. Most of them are local Germans but the first 10 people except Nelly Josifovna family participate nicely together in all the events.
Parish manager polish roots Alla (Halina) Dolina was the best friend of Nelly Josifovna. She came to visit me in Ukraine and when she realized that I am sick, my Kazakh Germans start asking what kind of medicines I need. They were ready send me anything I need. Such was this people with strong religious and human character.
2. Kazakh Kalmyks
Ostrowski, Lagowski, Morozowicz, Szot, Zalewski, Jablonski...Wiederholler. These are only few Polish, Ukrainian and German names which stay in my brain. They are living in small village Vesoloye in Gorodowikowsk County, in the city Gorodowikowsk and in the capital of Kalmyk Republic Elista.
We may tell: they are pure Catholics. Russians have many prejudices against Polish, Germans and all the nations which were under persecution. I was told many times about young people falling in love but not permitted to be marry because some of lovers belonged to these "forbidden nations". It is why they never got marry with Russians but mostly between themselves. Germans were also very careful looking for candidate to be married. If some German was Lutheran, catholic fathers also protested. It is why so many couples in Kazakhstan mix Polish and German appeared. The second reason why in Kazakhstan Polish and German became so friendly is because Polish came to Kazakhstan from Vinnitsa, Zhitomyr and Khmelnitsk in 1936-1939. It was because they do not accepted canceling their farms and wished not participate in collective farms. They were sent in empty steppe or desert in the middle and north Kazakhstan with very small population. Their settlements at first were just wholes in the earth to hide from winds and cold. Slowly they built small houses and after few years started repression of Germans. Polish people took their home, knowing how difficult life or crazy death may happen to them in strong as in Siberia winter.
This way they survived helping each other the most difficult days of war. Germans were ever numerous on Volga. Kalmyk Republic is close to Volga so when Soviet Russia permitted after Stalin's death to return some Germans to their native places Germans took with them their polish relatives and friends.
One of my Kalmyk parishioners was send to Siberia as 3 moths' old baby. He use to ask me "what a sin may commit such a small baby to be send in so strong prison?" He also asked me because it wounded his heart: "why his Russian schoolmates were calling him ever POLISH LORD even he was one of the poorest in the class". When he asked Kalmyk office of rehabilitation to get documents and privileges of persecuted nations he was told that polish are not listed. He was insisting so the answer was: Germans were sent from Volga so Russia repairs this mistake paying compensation; you polish were sent from Ukraine so go and ask Ukraine for getting privileges. Such is Russian policy until now. But Germans have also never healed wounds. They never contacted German Soldiers because they stopped on Volga and were never in Saratov or Engels (left border of Saratov was called Engels and capital of Volga German Autonomy). They mostly have no idea and no intention to collaborate with fascists' movement. They spent 200 or 300 years in Russia and ever were very obedient and loyal citizens of Russia, but one pretty day 28 August 1941 ALL OF THEM were loaded at animal wagons and expelled to Siberia and Kazakhstan to slowly die of hunger, lack of water of just loosing forces in few weeks travel to the concentration camp. Like Polish until 1956 they had no passports no citizen rights. Without permission of so called Commissar, no polish no German was permitted to visit village or city in the neighbor.
They were forced to hardly work changing steppe into farming land. They do it but they stayed still the worse kind of people. Even children in the school called their German classmates FASCISTS like POLISH LORDS, perhaps it was worse that somebody may hear knowing soviet propaganda and seeing crazy movies how big heroes were soldiers of Red Army and how bad "animals" were fascists. We may see that kind of movies and propaganda in all former soviet countries until today especially in May month each year. It is the reason I treated them ever very special way as I was also one of them.
3. Kazakh on Kuba River
In Krasnodar Land the most famous river is Kuba, it is why people call that land Kuban. In that land famous because of beatifull farming land and biggest harvest in all the Russia we have so famous and nice cities as Sochi, Armavir, Anapa, Eysk, and Kushchovskaya. Some of farming settlements like Stepnoye, Semyonovka, Leningradskaya, and Starominskoye...were ever having numerous Volga Germans. They also were expelled to Kazakhstan and some of them returned. It is why we have Catholic communities there.
For me the most important was stanitsa Leningradskaya. There were living Germans but my favor parishioners were two polish clans: Skakowski and Michalski. They were well organized and educated people and it was real pleasure working with them. It was similar pleasure as in Novocherkassk. When I was starting working there I realised in that small stanitsa we have polish cultural center "Skowronek". I proposed them to call their parish by the name of Mercifull Jesus and blessed Faustina. These are the most popular in Poland theological messages thanks to John Paul II life and writings of sister Faustina became light motive of Polish priests' activities.
Skakowski came to Kuban from Alma-Ata, former Kazakh capital and the biggest city in the country, Michalski came from some village close to Astana, actual capital of the country in the middle Kazakhstan. Michalski were two bothers: veterinary doctor and farmer. Skakowski were three brothers: lawyer, teacher and pilot. Last one Leonid was our parish manager. He registered community; get the land for chapel in the best place possible, he even told me about investigation KGB makes against me. Bit later his son became Franciscan Seminary student and Leonid has gone to control reparations of Monastery and construction of new church of st. Anthony in Sankt-Petersburg. Very active and patriotic people.
4. Saratov Kazakhs
About sending all Volga Germans to Kazakhstan I was told in Volgodonsk by Mr. Peters. He gave me self-made memorial shield and inspired memorial prayers that day in 1998 in new constructed wooden chapel. Some details about these repressions, we may call even genocide of Volga-Germans I was told by Bishop Werth. He was also small baby during that Stalin-KGB action.
Volga Germans it was specific nation, with own culture, own dialect, traditions. At first they had so many churches, schools, beautiful flourishing farms. All that beauty despaired in one single day.
When Orthodox was claiming Catholics for being expansionists in former USSR countries, Archbishop Nuntius Colasuonno answered that our "Catholic expansion", started with "kind invitation" of Mr. Stalin to move in Kazakhstan and Siberia in 30-50-ties. In fact in Middle Asia before were only few communities. Now we have 1 archdiocese in Astana, two dioceses in Alma-Aty and Karaganda and one Apostolic Administration in Atyrau. It was church which has born on blood and tears of people living and dying in inhuman conditions. Kazakhstan Karaganda city, Astana and many others we may easily compare with Magadan or even German concentration Camps in Auschwitz etc. In fact we actually know that Hitler got idea of concentration camps from Stalin. His specialists were even visiting Soviet Union with such a special topic: to inherit experience of massif numerous prisoners camps.
I wish to make some remarks concerning the people returning back. Saratov was ever forbidden for Germans in Soviet Union. It is why they created separate settlement in left side of River Volga calling Engels-City to have Germans out. When they returned from Kazakhstan mostly they came to Marks-city about 50 km east from Saratov. Some settlements around as Stepnoye are also populated by returning Germans. First famous priest which worked with them was Jesuit fr. Joseph Werth actual bishop in Novosibirsk. He had gone but on his place stayed East Germany missionary priest Clemens Pickel, which developed community and helped local Eucharistic sisters mostly native from Kazakhstan to have nice novice house close to beautiful church made by him also.
After his election as Saratov Bishop he stayed long time in Marks. His secretary in Bishop Office was native sister of Bishop Werth Rosa.
Volga-Germans call their cultural centers Wiedergeburt and actually we may see that sacrifice and holocaust of Volga-Germans was not waist, God gave many mercies to the people whose ancestors suffered so much. They slowly go back to Germany but same as Nelly Josifovna they form new Catholics on own place and attract people to Catholic Church by their silent presence in so many beautiful churches even in ruins but remaining in Saratov and all the cities around. In fact: when people stop talking, stones will do it!
5. Nowosybirsk Kazakhs
Messmer, Werth, Kan...These are few German clans from Karagandy, most of them stayed in Novosibirsk but as church workers they emigrate again and again. Some of them is superior of Missio Sui Iuris in Tajikistan, some in Kyrgyzstan. Bishop Joseph Werth is head of Episcopal Conference in Russia. In local Bishops office same as in Saratov we have mostly Eucharistic Sisters...Kazakhstan is very close so clergy and sisters move here and there. Also experience exchange is very active. From Novosibirsk started the biggest group of pilgrims on the meeting with Pope in Astana. In such a group was traveling also me.
6. Kazakhs on Sakhalin
On Sakhalin I met some family which was sent to Kazakhstan, because in 30-ties Stalin was afraid that big Korean Diaspora in Far East may pretend to have autonomy or wish unite with native Korea. Other reason perhaps was also because as Polish in Ukraine Koreans in Far East were wonderful workers, but perhaps idea about collective farms was not best for them.
My organist Gelya was married with such Korean born in Kazakhstan. Both were studying in Novosibirsk get marry born to children and took husbands family on Sakhalin. These Kazakhstan Koreans were rather much easy to contact. It was the only family which ever invited me to Christmas pastoral visits and ever gifted some small natural products from own garden as Slavic people use to do even very poor but ever generous.
I realized that Koreans in Kazakhstan also change their names by giving suffix -gay. For example Kim, became Kim-gay, Sin, Sin-gay, Li, Li-gay etc. This is same example of Russification Asians like 100 years before Russification was made in Podlasie in Poland including changing names. People in Soviet Union never liked "foreign names" and many polish Kazimira became Katya, Boleslaw became Boria, Armenian Arutiun Became Andrei, Mkrtich (John Baptist) became Misha, Korean parish manager in Sakhalin I Sekh Hi was called by Russians Valery Borysovich etc. Funny is that people in Kazakhstan was not trained to respect and learn Kazakh culture. Even now in Catholic parishes priests pray in Russian. In my opinion it is kind of mistake.
Mother in law of my organist Gelya was house keeper in new church in Yuzno-Sakhalinsk (Toyohara). Her eyes and smile was for me very familiar. Slowly I find a key to all Sakhalin Koreans hearts. But some people was not giving my any credit during many years, perhaps accustomed to obtain only bad feelings from "white " society in Russia. I was too much "Russian" for them. For Kazakh Koreans white people is more familiar and friendly, perhaps because close relationship with same prisoners Germans, Polish, Baltic's as there were.
We have some Franciscan brother from Korea in Alma-Ata. He is famous as traditional Asiatic medicine doctor. I met also one polish roots family from Kazakhstan. Victor came in Sakhalin, because he was soviet soldier and before Soviet Union collapsed he got such command to move from Kazakhstan to Sakhalin. He has nice flat near airport, nice wife and two school age children. He also invited me with enthusiasm to bless his house in Christmas time. Because Russian soldiers retire very fast especially on Far East, one year is like 2 years in Europe. He got additional job in the parish as security, he was very happy and proud defending our new church. His mother and father got permission to live in Poland, but he cannot visit them. In Russia until now, most of professional soldiers are not permitted to visit foreign countries. Such is soviet prejudice that being in foreign countries or having contacts with foreigners they may betray own country selling top military secrets.
These poor people have not even document of identity. For such purpose they have only "soldier card". I may tell you, in my opinion it is deep discrimination and inhuman behaviour against very simple soldiers just serving for sometime in strategic places or secret nuclear boats, even few months, his personal papers are blacklisted as possible visitor in foreign countries, even to visit own parents.
8. Kazakhs in Ukraine
I had in Ukraine the only family which came 20 years ago from Kazakhstan. Their name is Shevchenko. For many years living 100 km from most close church in Donetsk they were visiting Greek-Catholic church 30km far away in village Zvanivka.
After my small message in local Artemovsk paper they find me and from that moment they are most active parishioners. The grand mother Jadwiga is very similar to Nelly Josifovna. She has two married daughters and 3 grand-daughters most of them visit church weekly but some come daily. They have many same characteristics as people described by me before.
9. Kazakhs in Podlasie
A person similar to Jadwiga from Artemovsk and Nelly Josifovna in Novocherkassk, I met in the half way from Bialystok to Bielsk Podlaski.
Grand-mother Apolonia took with her two or three sons with their wives and many grandchildren. They got very simple flat in abandoned collective farm in the deep forest. Native Polish people have no wish to live in such a place any more but they stayed and survived, accustomed to live in difficult conditions.
The place was so much forgotten that local priests were long time clarifying what diocese the place belongs: to Bialystok or Drohiczyn, mostly villages around belong to Byelorussian minority which declares to be Orthodox.
I got example how bad Polish rulers treat the people which emigrate from former Soviet Union. They suffered much from Russians, but Polish were for them not better hosts.
10. Cyryl Klimowicz
I wish just mention again the priest whom I met in Byelorussian city Glebokie. His family was also send to Kazakhstan and immigrated to Poland in 60-ties. Fr. Klimowicz was small boy but providentially Polish rulers were not giving him polish passport so after finishing Seminary in Warmia (East Prussia), he decided to go back to USSR as missionary priest without visa and without risking like other Polish priests that local authorities may cancel his visa. It was perhaps good argument for Vatican to elect him first Bishop of Minsk and later of East Siberian Irkutsk.
In Pawlograd I was just few hours praying a Mass in local huge church and being invited to parish house for lunch. Some German roots priest answered my question how many difficulties he had getting land and permission to built the church.
He just smiled. He explained me that local rulers ever encourage Catholic priests to take best places in the cities or towns to built churches as element of landscape in not very nice steppe.
I was never thinking before that missionary man may be so happy having good relationship with politicians in post soviet countries. In Astana I got convince that really, for so many years Catholic churches are built in most nice main square and street. Churches are big and nice.
From another hand perhaps it is also result of prayers so many innocent and unknown victims.
12. Astana - Krzysiek Karolczuk
During meeting with Pope I met so many priests I was not seeing for Years. I was very familiar with archbishop Peta. 7 years before he was simple priest in Atyrau at Caspian see, just opposite border from Kalmyk Republic, so knowing me in Fatima, he invited me deeply to visit his place. I also invited him to visit mine. Soon he moved as Apostolic Administrator without being a priest to Astana and just before Pope's visit in Kazakhstan he was elected so big fish, metropolit of all Kazakhstan. It was not disturbing local rulers that he is Polish citizen, we have also another bishop in Alma-Aty, fr. Henry Howaniec, who is polish roots American Franciscan. He also has none problems as Bishop. The third hierarch in Karaganda has also title of Archbishop, because in fact Karaganda has the most number of Catholics even smaller than Astana. In Karaganda we have Major Seminary, paper Credo and other activities. The name of Archbishop is Lenga he is polish roots Ukraine priest fro Marian Congregation. He also was on priest retreats in Fatima in 1995 and even invited me to work in his diocese. A year later I send him a letter telling that I am ready to move in his diocese but perhaps letter was loosed because there was no answer.
I met in Astana Conventual Franciscan from Tashkent fr. Lucian. He was changing me in Kalmyk Parishes and ever was enthusiastic with me so all the celebration we spent sitting together because we really were missing each other.
I met Bernardo Antonini, holly priest who established Major Seminary in Moscow in 1993. He was ever same friend to me as Lucian. He established also paper SVET EVANGELIA and developed lay Theological Academy with many filial in all the Russia. He visited me in Rostov and also came to me twice in Siberia once to Sakhalin and Kamchatka. Parishioners were with him very enthusiastic. Actually he came to Kazakhstan with same pioneer mission, but unfortunately he died in Holly Thursday 2002. The man who loved so much priesthood has gone in the day when Jesus Christ established Eucharist and Sacrament of Priesthood. Bernardo also was sitting with me during celebration in Astana.
I met one classmate from Brodnica. Franciscan Father Michalski. I saw him last time as one of 3 Brodnica novices in Franciscan novitiate house in Zakliczyn close to Krakow. Now he is very respectful person in all Kazakhstan mission as responsible for youth.
The man who made me big please with his coming to Astana was Krzysztof Karolczuk SJ. He was as deacon in my parish on Don and I was on his ordination. It happened in Warsaw 1997. He was send to Novosibirsk and people seeing me with group of eleven Russian children was commenting that it was providential visit, because Jesuits before ordination never know what place they will work, just at the end of ceremony superior is proclaiming the destination of each one of new priests so Krzysztof was happy and grateful twice for my presence. Soon he was send from Novosibirsk to Astana. He was parish priest there for many years but he got deep sick and all the year he was absent. He just returned from Hospital and got new destination to mentioned Pawlodar. He is close to my heart because he is native from Podlasie from Bialystok.
13. Fr. Antoni Hey
Fr. Anthony Hey became a priest thanks to Polish Jesuits. He had relatives in Poland so during short visits he was trained to be a priest and consecrated in deep secret in Soviet times. He worked as parish priest for many years in Baranowicze. Later he moved to Moscow as General Vicar of Bishop Kondrusiewicz, finally he became Rector of Major Seminary in Petersburg. He ever jokes for being never seminarian, but getting duty to be a Rector as penitence.
He is native from Kazakhstan and he ever mentioned that the idea of becoming priest he got as small baby attending underground mass in deep night with his grand-mother. He was tired and sleepy but grand-mother explained him that the priest praying Mass came from far away risking his life to do that for this simple but very religious villagers. He was really impressed hearing that from his beloved grand-mother. He was jealous first such respect but also proud that some people may risk his life for him. Fr. Hey was also one of most friendly personalities during my staying in Russia. I respect him very much.
I met in Astana during my short staying also two young Greek-Catholic unmarried priests from Basilian Congregation. They just were starting their activities in Kazakhstan and I was told there are no other Greek-Catholic priests in Kazakhstan even before were many expels here and martyred. We have big Ukrainian Diaspora same as in Siberia, but Greek-Catholics which were for 50 years the only 1000% forbidden church in Russia has still problems restoring their structures in native Ukraine. Prejudices against them Orthodox cultivate successfully blocking many initiative so that they have non hierarchy in Russia and only about ten communities with 3 priests in Siberian Omsk and Kemerovo.
14. Kazakhs from Milan
I met in Astana priest Massimo, which I remember from Bergamo 1994. He was staying in Russia Christiana studying Russian and just preparing his trip to Kazakhstan. I saw him in 2000 in Tor Vergata. He came to Rome with Kazakh children and had celebrations together with Byelorussian and Russian groups in the church of st. Gerardo some Passionist holly boy. I was trying to tell him about our first meeting but he did not recognize me. Later I met him also in Astana just as nice memory of being together in very beginning of mine mission in Rostov and his in Kazakhstan. He is working somewhere near Alma-Aty, his friend from Italy which I met also before fr. Edo was in Karaganda chancellor of Bishop Lenga. Italians are also successful as Polish in Kazakhstan and nobody disturb their activities.
As I mentioned before I was invited twice to Kazakhstan in Fatima. Later I got invitation from fr. Kaleta Apostolic Administrator of Atyrau on Caspian See. He called to me after my dismissing from Russia and even sends invitation. The idea was accepted in Bialystok and I got solemn way missionary Cross from hands of Nuntius in Gniezno 25 April 2003.
It was my destination, but under pressure of Moscow Kazakhstan did not give me visa. It is why I came to Ukraine, but in deep heart I feel myself a member of Kazakh missionary team and miss all these people I met in Astana.
This article is kind of missionary trip virtual way. Nobody can forbid me such a travel and I will go there any possible way in the future supporting moral way the people working there. Popularizing their doing and their needs because in fact superior of Atyrau on huge territory from Caspian see up to Petropavlovsk on Transsiberian railway...has only 4 or 5 priests and as I understood he had big hope having me there with my ability to be same time in few places...
F. Jaroslaw Wisniewski