Pope Francis met with religious leaders and appealed for a culture of peace.

This happened during the Seventh Congress of World and Traditional Religions in Kazakhstan.

During his speech, he condemned religious justifications in relation to the "evil" of war and violence. Instead, he asked attendees to unite their efforts and never again hold the Almighty as a hostage in their human thirst for power.

"May we never allow the sacred to be exploited by the profane," he said.

His appeals in the former Soviet republic were especially significant given the ongoing war between Russia and Ukraine.

The Pope regarded the war as "senseless" and took pity on the Ukrainians who were experiencing "savageness, monstrosities, and torture". He called them "noble" people being martyred. Meanwhile, he begged Russia to put an end to the tragic war.

His audience at the conference included 80 imams, patriarchs, rabbis, and muftis.

On the other hand, Patriarch Kirill, head of the Russian Orthodox Church, who gave his blessing to Russia's invasion of Ukraine, pulled out of his attendance. Instead, it was reported by the Cyprus Mail that ROC sent a delegation headed by Metropolitan Anthony.

The ROC is one of the largest, ecclesiastically independent, Eastern Orthodox churches. It has a long history of strong political and spiritual influence over people in the Russian state. Most Christians in Kazakhstan belong to the ROC. However, according to a report by The Conversation, the Pope chose to focus on matters concerning the Christian minority in Kazakhstan.

He spent three days in the country and sought for increased religious freedom. In a report by The Scotfree, the Pope encouraged his listeners to be mindful of their errors of the past.

Also read: Papal Envoy Narrates Experience During Humanitarian Aid Mission in Ukraine, Says They Could Only Pray to Jesus

Religious Persecution in Kazakhstan

In the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917, the fall of the imperial government ushered in severe anti-religious persecution. Kazakhstan also became the site of collective labor camps which housed political prisoners.

In the 1930s and 1940s, campaigns of ethnic cleansing were rampant and deported thousands of Poles and Germans. The line of a small community of Catholics descended from these deportees.

Currently, Christianity is the second largest religion in Kazakhstan. However, their basic right to freedom of religion is strictly restricted. Small Christian denominations are especially targeted by religious persecution.

In an executive summary by the U.S. Department of State, observers and members of religious minority groups reported that private and government media outlets have continued to defame them. These outlets regarded religious groups such as Jehovah's Witness and the Church of Scientology as "nontraditional".

In 2019, three pastors of New Life Pentecostal Church in Almaty were sentenced to four to five years in prison. This stemmed from the accusation that the Church was founded with "criminal intent." At one point, they were also accused by the police of storing weapons.

Similarly, police officials raided a Baptist congregation because they were unregistered and did not act in accordance with the law.

As of 2021, human rights organization Forum 18 reported that authorities convicted at least 114 people and five organizations for exercising their religion without the state's permission.

Kazakhstan leaders are more focused on ensuring the state's security and stability rather than increasing individual religious liberty.

According to The Conversation, only time will tell whether Pope Francis's appeals are successful.

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