Source: News.va, Vatican City - On Wednesday morning, Archbishop Dominique Mamberti, Secretary for Relations with States of the Secretariat of State, and Mr. Elmar Mammadyarov, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Azerbaijan, exchanged the instruments of ratification of the Agreement between the Holy See and the Republic of Azerbaijan.
Located at the crossroads of Western Asia and Eastern Europe, Christianity has been present in Azerbaijan since the 1st century AD, when the Apostle Bartholomew arrived from India to preach the Gospel. Down through the centuries, missions led by Dominicans, Jesuits, Capuchins, Augustinians, served the Catholic minority present mainly in the capital Baku, until the advent of Russian rule in the early 20th century, when the community’s only priest was killed and its church demolished.
The revival of the community in Baku began in 1992, when a few believers wrote a letter to the Vatican, making a request for a priest to be sent out to celebrate Mass. On October 11, 2000 the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples appointed Don Bosco`s Salesians responsible for the mission in Azerbaijan. Only two years later Pope John Paul II visited the country, despite his increasingly fragile health. Shortly after this visit Azerbaijan’s President Aliev gave the Catholic Church a plot of land to build a church. The Church of the Immaculate Conception was inaugurated by Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Bertone on the 7th March 2008.
Wednesday’s Agreement, in English and Azeri, which consists of a preamble and eight articles, regulates the legal situation of the Catholic Church in Azerbaijan. It entered into force upon the exchange of instruments of ratification, pursuant to Article 8 of the Agreement.
Marking the accord, Archbishop Mamberti described it “as a high point” in relations between the Catholic Church and the Republic of Azerbaijan. He described the historical Agreement, as a “valuable instrument which implements the principle of religious freedom, which is of paramount importance and is reflected in the Constitution of the Republic of Azerbaijan”. Furthermore, he added “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”.
Arcbishop Mamberti said “the 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”.
Finally, he underlined that “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”.