KESTON NEWS SERVICE: 11.00, 23 February 2001

KYRGYZSTAN: DEADLOCK OVER REGISTRATION OF CATHOLIC
PARISH. The activity of the Church of St Michael the Archangel in the
Kyrgyz capital Bishkek (the only non-European Catholic parish in
Kyrgyzstan) is illegal, according to a decree on the registration of missions
and foreign religious organisations. Failure to resolve the parish's legal status
� whether it is a mission or a local church - has obstructed the construction
of a new church in the city centre.

KYRGYZSTAN: DEADLOCK OVER REGISTRATION OF CATHOLIC
PARISH

by Geraldine Fagan, Keston News Service

The Church of St Michael the Archangel in the Kyrgyz capital Bishkek was
first non-European Catholic parish to be registered under Soviet rule. It is
currently the only one in Kyrgyzstan, since 90 per cent of the German
population has emigrated, but now - according to a decree on the registration
of missions and foreign religious organisations � its activity is illegal.
Keston News Service has learnt that failure to resolve the parish's legal
status has obstructed the construction of a new church in the city centre.

Formerly under the diocese of Vilnius, Lithuania, and then Karaganda,
Kazakhstan, following initial registration in 1969, since December 1997 the
Bishkek parish has had the status of `missio sui juris', and its main priest,
Vatican-appointed ordinarius Fr Aleksandr Kan, is juridically on a par with a
bishop. On 14 February deputy chair of the Kyrgyz government's State
Commission for Religious Affairs (SCRA), Natalya Shadrova, explained to
Keston in Bishkek that the parish's direct subordination to a foreign centre,
and especially its title of `missio', oblige it to comply with a 1996
presidential decree requiring `missions of foreign religious organisations' to
register with her commission. `Missionary or other activity of a religious
nature on the territory of the Kyrgyz Republic without proper registration,'
states the decree, `is prohibited.'

According to Shadrova, the parish has not been registered as Fr Kan objects
to the state's classification of it as a mission: `He considers it a local church.'
However, churches with similar internal structures to the Catholics, such as
the Orthodox, have raised no such objections, she maintained. On 13
February Fr Valentin Prikhodko, secretary to Orthodox Bishop Vladimir
(Ikim) of Tashkent and Central Asia, confirmed to Keston that the Russian
Orthodox Church was technically a foreign religious organisation in
Kyrgyzstan.

In Shadrova's view, Fr Kan - brought up in a close-knit German parish in the
Kazakh town of Karaganda in a climate of Soviet oppression - was
suspicious of the state's demands on the church. On 12 February a Catholic
source in Bishkek confirmed to Keston that Fr Kan had serious objections to
the parish being termed a mission. Other factors prolonging the registration
deadlock, he said, were poor personal relations between Shadrova and Fr
Kan - `he has clashed with her several times' - and the fact that he was not
fond of paperwork.

However, in the source's view, the creation by the Vatican of a `missio' in
Kyrgyzstan meant that the pope was keen `to see something done here'. With
more priests, he thought, `there would be 20 churches in no time', but
without legal personality status it was difficult for the parish to invite them.
Several years ago, the source told Keston, the church was offered land in
central Bishkek (the congregation of approximately 100 currently worships
in its 30-year-old church building in the outskirts), `but nothing has
happened' � and construction is impossible without registration. In his view,
Fr Kan's close attachment to the German Catholic tradition in Karaganda
meant that he did not appreciate this desire for the church to be `more
present and visible'.

Keston was unable to meet Fr Kan while in Bishkek since he was on an ad
limina visit to Rome. The `Letter from the Vatican' column in the 18
February edition of the British newspaper Catholic Times, however, suggests
that he does regard the Catholic presence in Kyrgyzstan as a mission.
Catholic clergy in the country `continue to find small groups of Catholics in
villages where no priest has been for 50 years,' it reports Fr Kan as saying,
`we still have had no converts, but we are hoping.' (END)

Copyright (c) 2001 Keston Institute. All rights reserved.