There has been one very interesting development during Pope Francis’ visit to Kazakhstan and its capital Nur-Sultan for the inter-religious meeting. The capital was named Astana until three years ago when the current president Tokayev agreed to change the name to Nur Sultan to honor his predecessor Nursultan Nazarbayev who led the country for three decades after declaring independence from what was once the USSR, the Soviet Union.

It seems that the nation’s capital will once again be named Astana.

The first indication was a tweet today from President Tokayev’s press secretary that said, “The president of Kazakhstan supports the initiative of members of parliamentary to rename the capital of the country from Nur Sultan to Astana.”

It seems the president was informed of this initiative by the MPs who had put forth this proposal, having talked among themselves, and also to citizens who supported the name change during a referendum.

The June referendum called for constitutional changes, one of which, according to a bill written by parliament, will be the name change of the nation’s capital.

The Vatican always prepares a fascinating, informative booklet for the journalists covering a papal trip. In that booklet, the name Nur Sultan is used for the capital, as it is in Vatican news reports, thus suggesting that the name change has not officially taken place.


St. John Paul II was the first pontiff to visit this central European nation, visiting shortly after the September 11 attacks in the United States in 2001. At the time, he applauded the peaceful coexistence of religions and ethnicities such as Kazakh, Russian, Ukrainian, and many others, within the country. The capital of Kazakhstan in 2001 was Astana.

At the September 23 Angelus, John Paul said: “To Mary I entrust all of you: Christians and non-Christians, believers and non-believers. She is the Mother of all, because Christ her Son is the Saviour of all. May Mary help all of you, dear Brothers and Sisters, to accomplish in your daily lives Christ’s command: “Love one another”, which is the guiding theme of this pastoral visit of mine. To the perpetual help of the Queen of peace I also entrust the countries bordering Kazakhstan, and I greet especially the pilgrims who have come today from those lands to demonstrate their faith and affection.”

Pope Francis’ trip to Kazakhstan shared one aspect with Pope John Paul’s trip that took place right after the 9-11 attacks in the US, Pope Francis trip took place just after the 21st anniversary of those attacks. (Vatican photo)

In words spoken at the end of today’s Mass, the Holy Father pointed to areas of the world marked by violence and war, especially Ukraine, and stressed that the world must never grow accustomed to war or resigned to its perceived inevitability. “The one solution is peace and the only way to arrive at peace is through dialogue. …What still needs to happen, and how many deaths will it still take, before conflict yields to dialogue for the good of people, nations and all humanity?”

Inviting prayers from everyone so that the world can learn to create peace, Francis said, “I thank all those who believe in this. I thank all of you, and all those men and women who are heralds of peace and unity!”

Francis had said Sunday at the Angelus that his trip would be a “pilgrimage of peace. … It will be an opportunity to meet a great many religious representatives and to dialogue as brothers and sisters, animated by our common desire for peace, peace for which our world is thirsting.”