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Mission in Need: Turkemenistan

“We could not proclaim the Gospel loudly, so we whispered.”

There is an Oblate mission that may seem impossible – except to the dedicated priests who serve there. I pray that when you read their story you will consider a generous gift to aid the rebirth of
the Church.

In 1997 two Polish Oblates, Fr. Andrzej Madej and Fr. Radoslaw Zmitrowicz, arrived in Ashkhabad, Turkmenistan where the population is predominantly Muslim. The Oblates entered Turkmenistan as diplomatic representatives of the Holy See because the government would not officially recognize the Catholic Church. But they are slowly gaining acceptance. These Oblates were the first Catholic presence in Turkmenistan since the Catholic churches were destroyed by Russian revolutionaries almost 100 years ago. On March 12, 2010 the government listed their community as a “Catholic Centre.” This designation offers them rights they didn’t have before.

Today three Oblates serve in Turkmenistan: Fr. Madej, Fr. Rafał Chilimoniuk and Fr. Paweł Szlacheta. These men are the only Catholic priests in a country of five million people.

Originally from Poland, Fr. Rafał was ordained to the priesthood in May 2010. His ordination was the first priestly ordination in Turkmenistan in over 100 years. He feels blessed to be working there. “Maybe the mission is not easy, but God gives us a lot of beautiful moments in our work here,” he said. “Many times we feel like forerunners or some kind of heralds. While serving the people in this young community it is easier for me to understand the Acts of the Apostles from the Bible.”

The Oblate community in the city of Ashkhabad began humbly. “We could not proclaim the Gospel loudly, so we whispered,” said Fr. Andrzej, superior of the community. Because they have no church, the Oblates invited the community to celebrate Mass in their apartment. At first no one came. Then the congregation began to grow to 30 participants – most of whom were from the diplomatic community. Eventually local residents began to worship with them as well.

Today the Oblates celebrate Mass daily. Father Rafał said, “Of course the center of our day is the Eucharist. On some days we have 9:00 a.m. or 6:30 p.m. Adoration.” In order to share the Word of God with more people, they are training lay ministers to evangelize throughout the country as more people become drawn to this long-suppressed church.

The Oblates evangelize the youth and have led groups of young Catholics to World Youth Day in Canada and Germany. This allowed their small Catholic community to begin to grasp the breadth of the Church. Opportunities like these teach the Catholics of Turkmenistan that they are certainly not alone.

All these ministries require patience, understanding and, of course, financial support. Poland provides the Oblates for the mission and the United States Province provides its funding. “Like all missions we have financial problems,” explained Fr. Rafał. “The most difficult for us is to cover running costs like house rent and salaries. Because we are still using the diplomatic umbrella we are forced to hire drivers and a secretary.”

The Oblates have dreams of one day building a church for their tiny but growing faith community. In fact Fr. Andrzej met with Pope John Paul II just five months before the Pope’s death. Father Andrzej asked the Holy Father to bless a stone he had taken from Turkmenistan’s Kopetdag Mountains. It is there that he hopes to build a church one day. Until then, the Oblates remain hopeful and patient.

The Oblates have learned that progress takes time – so they are more than happy to accept the little victories. “In this country you can’t find a Catholic church,” said Fr. Rafał. “But the government gave us the green light to establish an Apostolic Nunciature,” a permanent diplomatic relationship between the Vatican and Turkmenistan.

Saint Eugene once told his fellow Oblates, “All that is necessary is a little courage and confidence in God, Who will show us the way and Who will never abandon us.” The Oblates in Turkmenistan reflect these words of wisdom. It takes courage to reintroduce the Catholic faith to the people of Turkmenistan. “We have to remember in what country we work and proclaim Jesus Christ,” said Fr. Rafał. While the Oblates feel safe, he admits it is hard to predict what the future might bring.

We ask for your support to build up the small, but growing Catholic community in Turkmenistan. We pray that you answer God’s call to offer your prayerful and financial support to the Oblates and the people they serve.

May God bless you for your kindness and fill you with His love. Please know that you remain in the prayers of the Oblate missionaries in Turkmenistan and around the world.

P.S. To learn more about tax-wise ways you can help the Oblates in Turkmenistan share the Catholic faith, contact the Charitable and Planned Giving Department.

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Help Us Build Up the Church in Tukmenistan

The Oblates of Turkmenistan share the Word of God with everyone they meet. Through various outreach programs, the Oblates are serving the needy families within their community. They are also building up the Church in Turkmenistan through early formation programs for the youth.

The Oblates are willing to work hard to see their dream become a reality – but they need your help. Below is a list of just some of their annual expenses. Won’t you answer God’s call by helping us build His Church here on earth?

Help for the poor. $7,000
Language courses for children of poverty-stricken families. $1,000
“Holidays with God” youth retreat near the Caspian Sea. $2,000
First Formation Program (two men are currently in the program). $5,000
Chapel renovations. $5,000
Room and board . $12,000
Missionary activities. $7,000
Printing of religious materials. .$1,000
Youth pastoral activities. $3,000