Pope Francis has kicked off his 38th Apostolic Journey to the Central Asian nation of Kazakhstan, marking the 57th country he has visited since the start of his pontificate, with the backdrop of the war in Ukraine.
The Pope comes as a 'pilgrim of peace' for this visit focused on peace, unity, and interreligious dialogue.
He departed by airplane from Rome's Fiumicino Airport on Tuesday morning, and arrived in the Kazakh capital of Nur-Sultan by 5:30 p.m. local time.
The Holy Father was warmly welcomed, and many happy faithful, and even non-Catholics, have been looking forward to the Pope's visit. Even among young Muslims, who do not know much about him, some have been asking questions to know more about this figure of the Pope, while saying he seems to be a person who cares about them.
Appeals for religious freedom, respecting human dignity
As is customary, the Holy Father paid a courtesy visit to the president of Kazakhstan, and addressed civil authorities and the diplomatic corps.
He underscored the need to protect religious freedom, noting it represents "the best channel for civil coexistence."
The Pope recalled the country's history under the Communist regime, with mass deportations and prison camps.
In spite of this, he stressed, "Kazakhs did not let themselves remain prisoners of these injustices: the memory of your seclusion led to a deep concern for inclusion."
Repudiation of nuclear weapons, Concern for environment
“May the memory of the sufferings and trials you endured," he said, "be an indispensable part of your journey towards the future, inspiring you to give absolute priority to human dignity, the dignity of every man and woman, and of every ethnic, social, and religious group.”
The Pope also expressed gratitude for the country's peace-making and environment-protecting efforts.
"I express deep appreciation for this country’s decisive repudiation of nuclear weapons and its efforts to develop energy and environmental policies centred on decreased dependence on carbon fuel and on investment in clean sources of energy..."
After the meeting, the Pope traveled to the Apostolic Nunciature where he will stay for the duration of his trip.
On Wednesday, Pope Francis will participate in the 7th Congress of Leaders of World and Traditional Religions and celebrate Mass for the country's Catholics, who make up a mere 1% of the country's population.