Pope Francis blesses icon depicting Mary and Jesus as native Kazakhs

Jonah McKeown   By Jonah McKeown for CNA


“The Mother of the Great Steppe” by Dosbol Kasymov. / Photo courtesy of Archbishop Tomasz Peta

CNA Newsroom, Sep 15, 2022 / 00:26 am (CNA).

Pope Francis on Thursday blessed an icon depicting Mary and the Child Jesus as native Kazakhs, entrusting the Church in Kazakhstan and all of Central Asia to Our Lady.

Pope Francis is wrapping up a three-day trip to the large, landlocked country for the Seventh Congress of Leaders of World and Traditional Religions, an interreligious summit held roughly every three years.

At a meeting with bishops, priests, deacons, consecrated persons, seminarians and pastoral workers in the Cathedral of Our Mother of Perpetual Help on Sept. 15, the pope spoke about the rich Christian history of Central Asia and encouraged Catholics to embrace this legacy, bearing “generous witness” to the joy of the ever-new Gospel of Jesus Christ.

The icon was revealed before the blessing by Pope Francis in Our Mother of Perpetual Help Cathedral on Sept. 15, 2022. Alexey Gotovsky / CNA
The icon was revealed before the blessing by Pope Francis in Our Mother of Perpetual Help Cathedral on Sept. 15, 2022. Alexey Gotovsky / CNA. See CNA article for full slideshow. 

The triptych — or three-part artwork — depicting the Kazakh-faced Mother of God and Child is known as “The Mother of the Great Steppe.” It was created by artist Dosbol Kasymov, who told EWTN News in Almaty, Kazakhstan, on Aug. 5 that his inspiration for the image came from his culture’s love and reverence for mothers.

Kasymov said the Child Jesus’ halo is in the form of a shanyrak, the emblem of Kazakhstan and a common cultural symbol based on the shape of a cross. Ethnic Kazakhs are predominantly Sunni Muslims, the most commonly practiced religion in the country.

He explained that Mary is shown looking away because “Kazakhs consider it not quite right or polite for a woman to look directly into the face of her interlocutor.” The Virgin Mary’s gaze can also be interpreted to mean that she is thinking about the future, that “she senses what is going to happen to her son,” he said. The Christ Child, who is looking the other way from his mother, “has a mixture of feelings,” the artist noted. “It is as if on the one hand, he does not want to separate from his mother, but on the other hand … somewhere in his depths, in his young subconsciousness, there is also an understanding that he has a path, as each of us has our own path.”

Pope Francis blesses the icon in Our Mother of Perpetual Help Cathedral on Sept. 15, 2022. Vatican Media
Pope Francis blesses the icon in Our Mother of Perpetual Help Cathedral on Sept. 15, 2022. Vatican Media

Kazakhstan is a majority-Muslim country home to an ethnically diverse minority of Catholics — an estimated 250,000 in total. Most of Kazakhstan’s Catholics are Latin-rite, but there is also an Eastern-rite minority of approximately 3,000 people. St. John Paul II visited the country in 2001 to an enthusiastic welcome.

The archbishop of Kazakhstan’s only Catholic archdiocese — which is named for Mary — told CNA Tuesday that the visit of Pope Francis is of unique significance to the country’s tiny but diverse Catholic minority.

“This icon will in the future be installed in the shrine in Oziornoye, where the Mother of God is venerated as the Queen of Peace, the patroness of Central Asia,” Archbishop Tomasz Peta, who commissioned the icon, told CNA. He leads Mary Most Holy Archdiocese in Astana, the capital city that has since been renamed Nur-Sultan.

Peta said the new chapel would be built in the shape of a yurt, the traditional round tent used by nomadic groups in Central Asia. The shrine is also getting a new pilgrim welcome center dedicated to St. John Paul II.


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  1. Dear Dr Coelho:

    In considering the words of our Lord, how does your perspective coordinate, if you will permit me to ask?

    John 14:13-14 Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it.

    John 14:6 Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.

    Romans 8:26 Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.

    John 16:23-24 In that day you will ask nothing of me. Truly, truly, I say to you, whatever you ask of the Father in my name, he will give it to you. Until now you have asked nothing in my name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.

    Matthew 6:9-13 Pray then like this: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.

    God bless you,

    Brian Young

    • Simple, Jesus responds to His mother’s request for certain. See the wedding feast at Cana.

      Asking His Mother Mary to join us in the entreaties we place before Him makes sense and at the same time recognizes our humility.

      Have you ever asked someone to pray for you?

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