Faith Guides Bishop to Kazakhstan
By Pat Szpekowski, Observer Correspondent
March 1, 2018
BATAVIA—The road that led Bishop Athanasius Schneider to preside over the Archdiocese of Mary Most Holy in Astana, Kazakhstan in 2011 was paved by his deep-rooted faith and personal history, inspirational parents and strong German roots. 
He aspired to be a priest since he was 10 years old and joined the order of the Canons Regular of the Holy Cross in Austria at the age of 21 in 1982. 
He was ordained in 1990 and in 1997 earned a doctorate in patristics, the branch of Christian theology that deals with the lives, writings, and doctrines of the early Christian theologians. 
His journey to Karaganda, Kazakhstan, began when he was sent to Mary, Mother of the Church Seminary there to teach patristics. Then in 2006, Pope Benedict XVI appointed him auxiliary bishop of Karaganda.
Kazakhstan extends from the Caspian Sea in the west to the Altai Mountains at its eastern border with China and Russia. The Archdiocese of Mary Most Holy sits in the capital city of Astana, which is located on the banks of the Ishim River in the north portion of Kazakhstan. It is estimated that over 1 million people live within the city’s limits.
Roman Catholicism is a distinct minority in his diocese. Only 0.5 percent of the people are Catholic in Astana, while 70 percent are Muslim and 20 percent follow the Russian Orthodox faith.
“The faithful are living in peace in my country,” said Bishop Schneider. “Our churches are growing and we are building seminaries, but we are not allowed to overtly evangelize. Our faith is practiced in our churches.
“We have made many conversions through our strong witness of our Catholicism and the foundation of our beautiful liturgy and the Mass,” he added.
Bishop Schneider said he has not felt fear in his adoptive county. 
“I have no fear. We have good government policies to avoid Islam fundamentalism and a vigilant government where we all live peacefully and in harmony,”  he said.
Faith starts at home
He regards his mother as his first catechist. 
“She gave me the basic immutable foundation and gift for my entire life,” said Bishop Schneider. When his mother was only 26 years old she, and a few other women, sheltered and protected Blessed Oleksa Zaryckji, a Ukranian priest, who was sentenced to ten years in prison and deported to Karaganda in Kazakhstan. He was released in 1957 and was appointed Apostolic Administrator of Kazakhstan and Siberia, but shortly thereafter was returned to a concentration camp near Dolinka in Kazakhstan, where he died a martyr for his faith. He was beatified by Pope Saint John Paul II in 2001.
Bishop Schneider’s parents placed him near the altar by then Father Zaryckji as he celebrated Mass. “I was a one year old altar boy,” Bishop Schneider noted.  “God sent us an angel and he told our family that at every Mass he will pray for my parents and their children.”