Kazakhstan is a huge country, covering an area of well over one million square miles (2.7 million km²) or more than a quarter the size of the United States – and yet it has just 18 million inhabitants. Formerly one of the Soviet republics, it has been an independent nation since 1991.
Over 70% of the population are Muslims, while around 25% are Christians. However, most of these belong to the Russian Orthodox Church. Catholics make up a minority of only around 300,000 people, most of them the descendants of former deportees and coming from various different ethnic backgrounds, with Polish, German, Baltic or Ukrainian roots.
In the town of Atbassar, roughly 160 miles (250 km) from the recently renamed capital Nur-Sultan (formerly Astana) there is a small community of Franciscan Sisters of the Immaculate Conception, who have been working there since 2006. They help in the parish with the pastoral care of the faithful, but at the same time they are a very precious place to turn to for people of all faiths and none, who find themselves in need. And the truth is that over half of the population of this town of close on 30,000 souls are in need of material support. Needless to say, the sisters sadly cannot help them all, however every Thursday in the parish they share out food, clothing and medication to around a hundred needy people. And every day more people come knocking on their door seeking help. The sisters often buy quantities of coal or firewood so that they can give it out to the most needy, and at Christmas and Easter they try to bring a little joy to around 50 children or so, by giving them small presents.
ACN is planning to make a contribution of 3500 Euros to support the work of these good sisters.