"The very high mountains of the Tian Shan range, once also called the 'Alessandro mountains', which mark the present border between Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, today bear witness to the greatness of the Itinerarium traveled by the Franciscan missionaries, along with others religious, merchants, guards and interpreters more or less available. This is what Fr. Lorenzo Turchi, OFM, professor at the Pontifical Antonianum University, tells Agenzia Fides, presenting an account of his studies on the mission of the Franciscans among the nomads of Central Asia in the medieval period.
The Church, in that part of the world, is today made up of a small flock in a vast geographical area: on the whole, according to data from the Statistical Yearbook of the Catholic Church in 2016, it is made up of about 118 thousand faithful. Considering the various nations of the former Soviet area, there are 70 parishes in Kazakhstan (112 thousand faithful), 3 in Kyrgyzstan (1,000 Catholics); 2 parishes in Tajikistan (200 faithful), 5 parishes in Uzbekistan (3,000 baptized) and a community in Turkmenistan (200 faithful). The area also includes the Missio sui iuris of Afghanistan, a land where there are no local Catholics or churches in the area and where the faithful are only made up of foreign personnel.
The roots of this presence are to be found in the Middle Ages, a period in which different missionaries risked their lives to announce the Gospel and become bearers of peace in those lands. The researches of Fr. Turks focus, in particular, on the travels of Giovanni da Pian del Carpine and William of Rubruck in the immense Mongol empire built by Chinggis Khan and his successors. (...)