The Challenge of the Church in Tajikistan

The tiny Central Asia country of Tajikistan may not be the center of the world for most of humankind, but it certainly is for me. For us, I should say. I’m the pastor at St. Joseph’s RCC in Dushanbe, the capital of Tajikistan.

Announcing the Good News

Fr. Marcelo Brandan takes care of the second — and last — parish of the country in Kurgan Tube, some 60 miles south, not far from the Tajik-Afghan border; and Fr. Carlos Avila, “the boss” (well, the superior, if you prefer) of the missio sui iuris in Tajikistan lives in Dushanbe and takes care of the whole of the mission.

So, what are three young — so far — Argentinean priests doing in Tajikistan anyway? It’s basically the same as in any other place of this planet, and namely, to announce the best you can the good news of the Gospel to all the nations.

Ok, I’ll get more specific. The Holy Father entrusted each of the newly created so-called missio sui iuris in Central Asia countries of the former Soviet Union to one religious community. Among them was the Institute of the Incarnate Word , a new Argentinean missionary community. This is why we came here.

How Stalin Scattered Seeds of Faith

The presence of the Catholic Church, not only in Tajikistan but also in all Central Asia countries is due to — sit back — Mr. Stalin. Yes, Mr. Josif Vissarionovich Stalin, the soviet statesman, RIP, who, not certainly out of love for the Gospel, scattered Germans, Polish, Lithuanians, Armenians and other minorities all through the frontiers of the Soviet empire, far from the European Russia (from Hitler in fact). For this reason the Church is visible in all these places. Amazing, isn’t it? “The Roman legions marched for Christ…”

You can find traces of Christianity, orthodox and heretical, in all these countries, but very back in history, without stable organization, without much inheritance left over. A more permanent Catholic presence as it is seen today comes from Mr. Stalin’s decision. In Tajikistan there were some three thousand Catholic, mostly Germans but also Lithuanians and Armenians. So much their faith was real that they managed to build a real church — a temple I mean — and a rectory in Dushanbe. The same they did in Kurgan Tube, where there was a powerful German speaking Catholic community. Priests were allowed to serve, within certain limits, but to serve nevertheless. All done without being part of any ecclesiastical jurisdiction.

After the Soviet Union collapsed, and specially because of a violent civil war in the country that killed thousand in the early nineties, almost everybody in the German community, Catholics included, left Tajikistan for Germany, or at least Russia/Ukraine.

In 1997 Pope John Paul II gave Central Asia countries the state of missio sui iuris, with a superior that responds directly to him, until one day, if need be, they become dioceses.

Today we serve a Catholic community of some three hundred, in the whole country.

An Interesting Mix of People

At St. Joseph’s, Dushanbe, we count one hundred and eighty souls. Nationalities? Some of them are from mixed origins, like German-Russian, or German-Tajik, or Lithuanian-Tajik. Some Russian babushki that find the only Russian Orthodox Church in town too far from their houses also come to our celebrations. Some also from the soup kitchen the Sisters of Mother Teresa serve weekly to the poorest. A good number of kids come to Mass and catechism.

A community of foreigners enrich our parish (Americans, British, Germans, Indians, French, Costa Ricans, Cubans, Russians, Polish…); some of them work in NGOs, some in diplomatic service. They all are very happy to be able to go to Mass and to celebrate Christian feasts in a predominantly Muslim country.

At St. Roch, Kurgan Tube, Fr. Marcelo assists a smaller community of believers, where nevertheless more young people from very different origins — also some Tajik — show a strong desire to know Christ.

Through Caritas, the Church has begun to serve the Tajik society in very interesting ways.

Please take a moment to see — literally, a lot of pictures! — of the mission in Tajikistan. We have set a small web page for your information and encouragement. Your suggestions are welcomed!

Once you have reached this far reading, please keep our mission in your prayers.

God bless you abundantly!

Fr. Juan Carlos Sack


RCC of St. Joseph

Dushanbe, Tajikistan

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