(Bishkek) Shortly before surgery the only Catholic bishop in Kyrgyzstan died Monday at the age of 61, as the Vatican and the Jesuits announced. Bishop Nikolaus Messmer came from a Black Sea German family. In 1975 he joined the Society of Jesus. Since 2006 he was Apostolic Administrator of Kyrgyzstan.
Bishop Nikolaus Messmer was born in 1954 in Karaganda in Kazakhstan, where his family had been deported in 1941 under Joseph Stalin. In 1978 he professed his final vows and was ordained priest on 28 May 1989. From 1997 to 2006 he was - with a break to study for his doctorate at the Gregorian University in Rome - Rector of the Minor Seminary in Novosibirsk (Russia). On March 18, 2006 he was appointed bishop by Pope Benedict XVI. The episcopal ordination was given to him on 2 June 2006 by Cardinal Angelo Sodano.
There are three brothers from family Messmer, besides Nikolaus Messmer, his younger brothers Otto and Jerome who are in the Jesuit Order: Otto Messmer SJ was assassinated on 27 October 2008 in Moscow. He was at this time religious superior in Russia. Hieronymus Messmer SJ belongs to the German Province of the Jesuits.
A place in the obituary of Father Otto Messmer also gives information about his brother, Bishop Nikolaus Messmer:
"His parents are a testament to how Russia German clung to their faith under the Soviets in the underground and passed it on to their children. The parents are from Speyer or Kandel in the Black Sea region and were deported to the Soviet Union after the end of World War II from the so-called Warthegau. They managed to make their way up to Karaganda, the center of the underground Catholic Church. There Otto and all his 5 brothers and 3 sisters were born. Otto was impressed by the Lithuanian Jesuit Father Albinas who from 1975 was also active in Karaganda after his time in prison in Siberia. Father Albinas founded the novitiate in the underground, and Otto came in."
The German colonies in Odessa on the Black Sea emerged in 1803. The colony Kandel was founded in 1808. The colony Speyer was founded in the following year 1809. The Messmer family moved after the collapse of Soviet rule, like many Russian-Germans in the Federal Republic of Germany.
Kyrgyzstan is currently home to around 1,500 Catholics. These are especially the descendants of those deported under Soviet rule from German and Poland. Bishop Messmer was the first diocesan bishop of the Central Asian country. 75 percent of the more than five million inhabitants are Muslim, 20 percent Russian Orthodox. The rest include the Catholics who are overall the descendants of Germans from Russia, which are partly Catholic, partly Protestant.
With the death of Bishop Messmer, there are six priests in Kyrgyzstan including four Jesuits and two diocesan priests. Most are German and Polish origin.
Text: Vatican Radio / Giuseppe Nardi
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