(Fides News Agency) Ashgabat – Taking part with joy in the baptism of six new Turkmen sisters — this is how the Catholic faithful of Ashgabat, Turkmenistan celebrated the first World Day of the Poor – proclaimed by the Pope for November 19.

This is what Fr. Andrzej MADEJ, Polish priest of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate and Superior of the “missio sui iuris” of

Turkmenistan told Fides News Agency: “Pope Francis gave a clear message for this day dedicated to the least: ‘We do not love in words, but with facts’. This clearly shows how works of charity on behalf of one’s neighbor are salvific actions that help build the story of our redemption. The greatest saving work is the path towards baptism. And it is with great joy that, this Sunday, we will baptize a young woman and her five daughters”.

Fr. Madej told Fides the story of the six women: “Over the last few years, this family in financial difficulties was accompanied by a French woman, a volunteer, who gave witness of human and Christian solidarity. This closeness generated interest in the gospel and the beginning of the journey towards baptism. The date of November 19 seems to be a coincidence, but it is certainly a day chosen by God. It will be a great celebration for us all”.

With this celebration, which brings together the little flock of the Turkmen faithful, World Day of the Poor is being celebrated in Turkmenistan, a country in which to talk about “poverty” is almost forbidden. The concept of “poor” is, in fact, one of the taboos in society, given that the government of Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov, president named for the third time at the helm of the country in February 2017, wants to show the face of a growing country and in full development.

During the Soviet era, Turkmenistan was considered one of the poorest republics in the Union, with about 45% of the population in 1989 living below the poverty line. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, unequal economic development contributed to creating a population of elite that holds most of the wealth and strong disparities among the provinces .Measuring poverty was a taboo in the Soviet Union, but the scarcity and incompleteness of data on poverty in the post-independence era also indicates that poverty is still a politically delicate topic in Central Asia. In 2012, the Turkmen government estimated poverty at 0.2% of the population, contradicting all independent indicators and studies, that gave estimates of around 30%.

Turkmenistan has over 5 million inhabitants, of whom 90% are Muslims. The Catholic Church was recognized by the Turkmen government in 2010. (Fides News Agency)