Some Facts about the History of Christianity in Turkmenistan
The first traces of Christianity on the Turkmen land date approximately from the first century A.D. Christians are believed to have appeared in the territory of Turkmenistan after 64 A.D. when the followers of Christ were persecuted by the Roman Empire, forcing them to flee and seek refuge elsewhere. It should be noted that St. Andrew the First-Called, one of the Twelve Apostles, is thought to have preached among the Scythians in the I – early II centuries A.D., and Apostle Thomas brought the word of Christ to Parthia and India. As narrated in the Acts of the Apostles (chapter 2), the Parthians were present in Jerusalem when the Holy Spirit descended upon the Apostles.
Traces of Christianity dating back to the first century A.D. have been found by Professor Gabrielle Rossi-Osmida in the course of his latest studies near ancient Merv. A unique architectural monument known as Kharaba-kyoshk has been found here, which in effect is a rare type of early Christian church. According to the research by Professor G. Rossi-Osmida, Kharaba-kyoshk was a meeting place of the oriental Christians long before the reign of the emperor Constantine I. Zoroastrians, Buddhists and Christians coexisted peacefully next to each other in the above mentioned city of Merv. By the III century whole communities of Christians had settled down in the Merv oasis, and a century after the annals mention the Bishop of Merv. Modern archeologists have found a Christian necropolis of that era to the west of Old Merv, and in Merv itself, in the territory of Gyaur-kala settlement the remnants of an oval monastery built in the IV – early V century have been excavated.
From personal testimony we also know that in the V century there were a number of bishops in the province of Khorezm on the border between modern Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. However, the development of Christianity in those territories later stopped for a very long time. In the late Middle Ages Christians disappeared from the territory of Turkmenistan. The revival of Christianity started several centuries later – in the XIX century with the arrival of Orthodox, Catholic, Armenian-Gregorian, and Armenian-Catholic Church representatives.
At the beginning of the XX century about 4 thousand Catholic Christians were present in Zakaspiyskiy region. A lot of these people were involved in the construction of railways. Thanks to the decisions of the Priest Justin Pronaitis of Tashkent, Catholics from such cities as Krasnovodsk, Kizil-Arvat, Ashkhabad, Mari, Chardjou and Kerki could count on the presence of a Priest at least twice a year, who would administer the Holy Communion and the Sacrament. In 1904-1905 Catholics, predominantly Poles, built a Neo-Gothic Catholic Church in Ashkhabad which served the needs of believers until 1920. The total destruction of the shrine took place during the destructive Ashkhabad earthquake in 1948, which claimed the lives of ¾ of the population of the city. In 1994-1995 the Priest Joseph Schmidlen SJ, permanently resident in Kazakhstan, visited the Catholics scattered about Turkmenistan.
1996 marked the beginning of a new era in the development of the Catholic Church in Turkmenistan when diplomatic relations between the Holy See and Turkmenistan were established on July 10. As a result of that, two priests, missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate, father Andrzej Madej OMI and father Radoslaw Zmitrowic OMI came to Ashkhabad and started offering diplomatic and priest services in October 1997. On March 12, 2010, to the great joy of the believers, the Catholic Church in Turkmenistan was registered as a practising community, the Roman-Catholic Center of the Transfiguration.
Throughout the time since the establishment of diplomatic relations between the Vatican and Turkmenistan, the Chapel of the Transfiguration under the Apostolic Nunciature in Ashgabat has administered the Holy Communion, the Sacrament and proclaimed the Word of God. Today the community is waiting in anticipation of the beginning of the construction of a new Church.