Pope Francis will visit Kazakhstan in September to attend a meeting of religious leaders.
On Monday, August 1st, the Holy See Press Office announced the pope had accepted “the invitation of the civil and ecclesial authorities” and would be in Kazakhstan from September 13th to 15th.On his itinerary is “visiting the city of Nur-Sultan on the occasion of the VII Congress of Leaders of World and Traditional Religions.”
The Holy Father had first expressed an interest in going to Kazakhstan in April, during a conversation with Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, Vatican News reports. He reiterated his hope on the return flight from his Apostolic Visit to Canada.
“For the moment, I would like to go to Kazakhstan. That wouldn’t be too rigorous of a journey,” he said.
The theme of this year’s event will be “The Role of Leaders of World and Traditional Faiths in the Socio-Spiritual Development of Humanity after the Pandemic,” according to Vatican News.
The congress takes place every three years in the Kazakh capital, Nur-Sultan. Former Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev convoked the inaugural congress in 2003, inspired by Pope St. John Paul II’s 1986 Day of Prayer for Peace in Assisi, which brought together various religions and leaders.
Reuters reports that Pope Francis hopes to meet with Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill at the meeting. Francis had a historic meeting with the patriarch in Cuba in 2016, as it was the first meeting between a pope and a leader of the Russian Orthodox Church since the Great Schism in 1054.
Now the Ukraine war has deepened the rift between the Vatican and the Russian Orthodox Church. Kirill strongly supports Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and Pope Francis has publicly chided him for his position.
His schedule also includes a meeting with Kazakhstan’s civil authorities, private meetings with religious leaders, and a public Mass.
Bridget Ryder is Spain-based writer. She has written on politics, environment, and culture for American and international publications. She holds degrees in Spanish and Catholic Studies.