September 6, 2020 will remain forever engraved in the hearts of Kazakh Catholics: it is on this day that St. Joseph’s Cathedral in Karaganda was elevated to the rank of minor basilica, during a pontifical mass broadcast live: a way of honoring the memory of the martyrs of Communism in this distant mission land.
A June 19 decree of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments conferred the new status on the church.
“It is a real sanctuary,” explains Bishop Adelio Dell’Oro of Karaganda, “many go there on pilgrimage because inside there are the relics of the priest martyr of communism Fr. Wladislav Bukowinsky.”
The new basilica firstly recalls the sufferings that the clergy and faithful endured to remain faithful to the faith of their baptism. After Stalin’s death: in 1953 some priests, a handful, freed from concentration camps reached the city of Karaganda. “Among them, Fr. Wladislav Bukowinsky, Greek-Catholic Bishop Alexander Khira, Fr. Alexander Staub, Fr. Alexiy Zaritsy, Fr. Albinas Dumblyauskas, and others.”
All these priests, far from their native lands, broken by the abuses endured by the Gulag, never gave up: “They baptized, confessed, celebrated Holy Mass, and marriages clandestinely. People came to them from distant regions to receive the Holy Sacraments,” explained the Bishop of Karaganda.
He also mentioned that there were many believing women who contributed to the evangelization: Gertrude and Valentina Detzel, Maria Becker, Thea Balter, Flora Stivikh, and many others who, despite the cruel persecutions, were engaged in catechesis for adults, children, and adolescents, who were preparing for First Communion and other Sacraments.”
It was only with the slow thaw of the Brezhnev era that the parish of St. Joseph of Karaganda obtained the right to officially exist on February 28, 1977.
From there, a modest house called zemlianka was acquired on the parish territory, and the first official mass was celebrated there on March 19, 1977, on the feast of St. Joseph.
The first stone of the current church was blessed in November of the same year: “In the construction of the building, which began in the spring of 1978, all [the members of the community] participated, from the smallest to the largest, including the invalids and the sick, and beginning on September 8, the first Mass was celebrated in St. Joseph Church, which had barely been completed,” continues Bishop Dell'Oro.
Why did ask Rome to confer on the sanctuary the title of minor basilica? To commemorate the little-known martyrs of Communism, but also to “strengthen the link of this church with the bishop of Rome, and thus highlight its importance in Kazakh territory,” explains the prelate.