VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis appealed on Sunday for an end to violence that has claimed dozens of lives in Kazakhstan.

Speaking after reciting the Angelus on Jan. 9, he prayed for peace in the Central Asian country following unprecedented unrest.

“I have learned with sorrow that there have been victims during the protests which broke out in recent days in Kazakhstan,” he said.

“I pray for them and for their families, and I hope that social harmony will be restored as soon as possible through the search for dialogue, justice, and the common good.”

“I entrust the Kazakh people to the protection of Our Lady, Queen of Peace of Oziornoje.”

Oziornoje, a village in northern Kazakhstan, is home to Kazakhstan’s National Shrine of the Queen of Peace.

Protests broke out in the country on Jan. 2 after a sharp rise in gas prices.

President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev responded by declaring a nationwide state of emergency and inviting troops from an alliance comprising Russia and allied states. Tokayev ordered security forces to “fire without warning,” the BBC reported on Jan. 7.

The death toll among protesters is currently unclear, but the Kazakhstan Interior Ministry has reported the deaths of at least 16 security officers.

Bishop Athanasius Schneider, an auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Maria Santissima in Astana, said on Jan. 8 that the country’s estimated 250,000 Catholics were safe.

 In his live-streamed Angelus address, Pope Francis reflected on the day’s Gospel reading, Luke 3:15-16, 21-22, which recounts Christ’s baptism in the Jordan River at the start of his public ministry.

He said: “Let us reflect on an important point: at the moment in which Jesus receives Baptism, the text says that he ‘was praying’ (Luke 3:21).”

“It is good for us to contemplate this: Jesus prays. But why? He, the Lord, the Son of God, prays like us? Yes, Jesus – the Gospels repeat this many times — spends a lot of time in prayer: at the beginning of every day, often at night, before making important decisions… His prayer is a living dialogue, an intimate relationship with the Father.”

He said that Jesus’ baptism showed a twofold “movement” in Christ’s life: his descent into the Jordan River and his raising of his heart in prayer.

“It is a tremendous lesson for us: we are all immersed in the problems of life and in many complicated situations, called upon to face difficult moments and choices that get us down,” the pope said.

“But, if we do not want to be crushed, we need to raise everything upwards. And this is exactly what prayer does; it is not an escape route, it is not a magic ritual or a repetition of memorized jingles.”

“No, prayer is the way we allow God to act in us, to understand what he wants to communicate to us even in the most difficult situations, praying to have the strength to go forward.”

Referring to the text of the day’s Gospel, the pope said that prayer “opens the heavens.”

“Above all, it enables us to have the same experience of Jesus by the Jordan River: it makes us feel like beloved children of the Father. When we pray, the Father says to us too, as he does to Jesus in the Gospel: ‘You are my beloved child,’” he said.



He encouraged Catholics to review their prayer lives.

“Do I pray out of habit, unwillingly, just reciting formulas, or is my prayer an encounter with God?” he asked.

“Am I a sinner, always among God’s people, never isolated? Do I cultivate intimacy with God, dialogue with Him, listen to His Word?”

“Among the many things we do, let us not neglect prayer: let us dedicate time to it, let us use short invocations to be repeated often, let us read the Gospel every day.”

After reciting the Angelus, Pope Francis greeted pilgrims gathered in a rainswept St. Peter’s Square.

He noted that earlier on Sunday he had baptized 16 babies in the Sistine Chapel.

“This morning, as is customary on the Sunday of the Baptism of the Lord, I baptized a number of babies, children of Vatican employees,” he said.

“I now wish to extend my prayer and blessing to all the infants who have received or will receive baptism during this time. May the Lord bless them and may Our Lady protect them.”

“And to all of you, I urge: learn the date of your baptism. When was I baptized? … This you must not forget, and remember that day as a day of celebration.”