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Samarkand – Art as an instrument of the apostolate to talk about Christ to those who enter the church driven by curiosity. This is the objective that led the priests of the Institute of the Incarnate Word of Samarkand to begin the restoration work in the church of St. John the Baptist. The parish priest, Fr. Ariel Alvarez Toncovich told Fides: “We are sure that art can be an instrument of evangelization, that is why we started the restoration work on our church in Samarkand two weeks ago, that we are bring back to its characteristics of a hundred years ago, a magnificent and spiritual Gothic temple. The project involves the recovery of the original vault and the reconstruction of the windows with special stained glass windows. We would like to be able to do catechesis with images, to evangelize and communicate Christ through art. This is why we are trying to bring light and life back to this place. We have noticed that, little by little, Uzbekistan is starting to be populated with tourists again, so it is important that anyone who comes to visit us, even if only out of curiosity or for cultural reasons, immediately feels welcomed. It is a way of entering the tourism project of the city and of making ourselves known, with the ultimate goal of carrying out an apostolate”. Founded between the 7th and 5th centuries BC, the city of Samarkand represented the most important stage of the ancient Silk Road, thus developing its tourist vocation over the centuries. The tourism sector today represents the main source of income of the local population, as well as the main engine of the demographic development of the city, which currently has more than 500 thousand inhabitants.
In such a vast context, explains Fr. Alvarez, reaching the faithful represents an important challenge: “In recent years, this church has not been able to enjoy the presence of a permanent priest, but it was missionaries from other cities who took turns to ensure at least the Sunday celebration. This led to a dispersion of the faithful: we aim to attract them by enhancing this place and organizing various activities, including the creation of the oratory”. After spending 8 years on a mission in Kazakhstan, Fr. Alvarez was sent to Samarkand together with his confrere, Fr. Paolo Giacinti, precisely to relaunch pastoral activity in the local parish. In addition to Samarkand, there are four other parishes in Uzbekistan and around 3,000 baptized people: around 700 in the capital Tashkent, plus others in Bukhara, Urgench and Fergana. In Angren, where a new church is planned to be built, there are 25 faithful. The Uzbek population, made up of 30 million inhabitants, is 90% Muslim. About 3.5% are Russian Orthodox Christians, while an additional 3% include small Christian communities of other faiths, including Catholics.