Saturday, July 09, 2011

"A high point in our relations"

The only Catholic Church in Azerbaijan

Part of the consecration ceremony in the only Catholic Church in Azerbaijan

Another high point in Vatican diplomacy was achieved this week which did not attract too much attention: the ratification of the agreement between the Holy See and the Republic of Azerbaijan.

Azerbaijan only has about 450 Catholics. The population is 99% Muslim.

Here is the link to the website of the only Catholic Church in Azerbaijan: Catholic Church in Azerbaijan

Archbishop Dominique Mamberti, secretary for relations with states said:

"The Agreement recognizes and registers the juridical personality of the Catholic Church, as well as that of its institutions established on the basis of its legislation. Furthermore, the new registration ensures that the local Catholic Church can live in peace and confidence, so as better to contribute to the common good of the Country.

This event is very meaningful, also because it provides evidence of the respect for a minority religious community shown by a country with a conspicuous Muslim population. This is an indication of how Christians and Muslims can live together and respect one another.

The Agreement does not affect the existence and activities of the many religious communities, Christian and non-Christian, who have been welcome in Azerbaijan, and does not place the Catholic Church in a privileged position. Rather, the Church seeks to carry out its mission within the ambit of its religious competence and with due regard for the laws of the Republic of Azerbaijan."

The history of Christianity in Azerbaijan goes back to the first centruy AD

Stalinist persecution virtually wiped out the Catholic presence in the area. However when the Apostolic Nuncio visited the republic in 2005 he found a a group of elderly believers who had kept the faith alive for more than 70 years without the sacraments. They had waited over 70 years to receive the sacrament of Confirmation which they received on Pentecost that year

Blessed Pope John Paul II visited Azerbaijan at the request of the President in 2002

In an article in Osservatore Romano on 18th June 2011 Giuseppe Petrone put the event in historical and political perspective:

"No peace in the Caucasus

The fall of communism and the insurgence of ethnic hostilities have sown havoc in the southern fringe of the ex-Soviet Union, especially in the Caucasus, which today is a crossroads of global and regional interests.

With a geographical extension equal to that of Europe, it increasingly represents the geopolitical hinge and fragile element of the connection between Russia, Europe and the Middle East.

Armed conflicts and attacks have become the order of the day; a senior representative of the fight against terrorism in Russia was killed last Sunday during an operation against rebels in Kabardino-Balkaria. Some police were injured by anonymous gunfire in Ingushetia. An imam was killed in the village of Mikheevka in Daghestan.

The conflict in Chechnya represents only the tip of the iceberg in an area where enormous economic interests dangerously intersect, together with historical, religious, cultural and political interests, making the region a powder keg on the level of the Balkans.

After the first war, (1994-1996) between federal forces and independent Chechens, the rebellion has become progressively islamicized; it has crossed borders and transformed into a movement fighting in all of north Caucasus.

After the dissolution of the USSR in the Caucasus region, an area of particularly complex ethnicities, three new independent states were born: Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan, while the other seven ex-Republics (Chechnya, Dagestan, Ingushetia, Kabardino-Balkaria, North Ossetia-Alania, Territory of Stavropol, and Karachay-Cherkessia) remained within the Russian Federation, but with autonomous status.

The new states immediately were forced to confront grave economic problems and territorial disputes: Armenia and Azerbaijan are still contending for the Nagorno Karabakh, politically tied to Baku but with an Armenian majority.

Giuseppe M. Petrone June 18, 2011"