2016-10-01 18:00:00

Card. Filoni on significance of Pope's visit to Azerbaijan

(Vatican Radio)  On Sunday morning Pope Francis leaves the Georgian capital, Tbilisi, and flies east, headed for Baku, the Azerbaijani capital and largest city on the Caspian Sea.

There he will meet with Sheik Allashukur Pashazade, head of the majority Muslim community which makes up around 85% percent of the rapidly developing nation. He’ll take part in an interreligious encounter with leaders of all the faith groups, but he’ll also celebrate Mass at the only Catholic parish in the country, which serves the few hundred local and foreign members of this tiny community.

Pope John Paul II set up the mission in Baku, run by Salesian priests and supported by sisters of Mother Theresa’s Missionaries of Charity, just ahead of his own historic pastoral visit to the former Soviet nation in 2002.

As head of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Evangelisation of Peoples, Cardinal Fernando Filoni looks after this tiny Catholic community today. He talked to Philippa Hitchen about the significance of Pope Francis’ visit there….

Listen to the full interview:


Cardinal Filone says there are two levels to this papal visit; the first level is the invitation from the government, building on Pope John Paul II’s visit which opened, in a very structural form, the presence of Catholics in Azerbaijan.

The second level, he says, is religious and includes all the components of Azerbaijan, the Shiite Muslim majority, Christians belonging to the Russian Orthodox Church, Jews and others. For the Catholics, of course, he adds, this visit means the Holy Father does not think only of the big communities but instead “all of the communities, especially the small ones, have a place in the heart of the Church and of the Holy Father”.

Asked about the relationship between this tiny Catholic community and the vast majority of Muslims, the cardinal says “the relationship is very good”, as he witnessed during his own 2012 visit there. The leader of the Muslim community, Sheik Allashukur Pashazade, the Russian Orthodox Archbishop Aleksandr, and the Apostolic Prefect, Salesian Father Vladimír Fekete, together with the president of the Jewish community, Ikhiilov, meet quite frequently, he says.

While the government of Azerbaijan is keen to maintain these peaceful relationship, the cardinal says, the different communities enjoy freedom of worship and religious rights

Commenting on Pope Francis’ recent call for peace in the contested Nagorno-Karabakh region during his June visit to Armenia, Cardinal Filoni says “I am sure the Holy Father will appeal again also in Azerbaijan. It is an appeal for peace, understanding, comprehension, and for solving the problems through contact and relationships”.

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