Ashgabat (Agenzia Fides) – “The central theme of my preaching for the Catholic community of Turkmenistan is ‘You will be like God’, the sentence with which the demon tempted Adam and Eve. Their mistake was that of wanting to be like the Father, but doing everything by themselves and moving away from Him. Instead, the Child Jesus comes to teach us that we can be holy like God; it is He who wants it. Christmas reminds us that Jesus came among us to accompany us on this path towards holiness”.

This is what Father Diego SÁEZ MARTÍN, Oblate of Mary Immaculate, told Fides, who went to Ashgabat to “preach, but also to celebrate the Holy Christmas and the arrival of the new year with the missionary confreres”. [Editor’s note: Fr. Diego is currently pursuing studies at the General House in Rome. A native of Spain, he has served the Church in both Ukraine and Turkmenistan.]

The preaching is accompanied by a profound knowledge of the Turkmen Catholic reality: “The first time I was here,” explained Father Diego, “ was to carry out catechesis in preparation for Easter 2007. When I saw the situation and the people’s needs, I asked my superiors if they could give me the possibility of being sent permanently to Ashgabat. So I spent three years in Turkmenistan, from 2010 to 2013”.

Fr. Sáez Martín defines the mission in a country with a Muslim majority: “the most beautiful experience of my life, because I was able to live like the first apostles: I, like them, know what it means to go and proclaim Christ in a place like Turkmenistan, where we must start from scratch; there is no church, there are no structures. I spoke about the Gospel and explained the truths of faith to people who had never heard of it. I can say that I was an apostle of our time. It is a difficult but beautiful task”.

The Oblate will remain in Turkmenistan until 6 January when, together with his missionary confreres, Frs. Andrzej MADEJ, Paweł SZLACHETA and Rafał CHILIMONIUK, will celebrate the Epiphany, during which the gifts of the Three Wise Men will be symbolically blessed. [Editor’s Note: In September of 2017, Fr. Szlacheta received an obedience for the Delegation of Ukraine, so presently, there are only two Oblates, the only Catholic ministers in the country.] 

The Christmas festivities are celebrated in the house of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate in Ashgabat, but, according to Father Diego, they will also involve the Catholics in other cities, who will travel capital just to live together a Holy Christmas.

Turkmenistan has over 5 million inhabitants, 90% Muslims. The Catholic Church was refounded in 1997 as a Missio sui iuris by John Paul II and was recognized by the Turkmen government in 2010. (LF) (Agenzia Fides, 22/112/2017)