One World Religion Watch: Azerbaijan: The century-old bond between Catholics and Muslims
More Masonic "co existence" being propagated from the Conciliarists
Islam a true religion????
Accounts of peaceful co-existence between Christians and Muslims. Good relations among faithful and memories of Pope Francis' visit to the country last October
"It is my sincere hope that Azerbaijan may continue along the way of cooperation between different cultures and religious confessions. [...] There is here a desire to protect the great heritage of religions and, at the same time, a pursuit of deeper and more fruitful openness. The Catholic Church, for example, finds a place and lives in harmony among other religions that have far more members, demonstrating concretely that it is not opposition but cooperation that helps to build better and more peacefulnsocieties."
A small flock
Upon his arrival on Azerbaijani soil, Pope Francis was welcomed by Vladimir Fekete, the 62-year-old Slovak Apostolic Prefect pf Azerbaijan and head of the Salesian mission in Baku. The mission includes six priests, three consecrated lay people and two Daughters of Mary Help of Christians . In the Azeri capital there are also five Missionaries of Charity who have opened a welcome centre for the needy. These are the only priests and Catholic religious present in a country with a population of 10 million inhabitants. The Catholic flock in Baku is small. Back in 1900 there were around 10,000 Catholics but when the communist regime came to power everything changed, churches were reduced to rubble and priests were persecuted and killed. Today there are just 300 Catholics with Azeri citizenship and about a thousand foreign Catholics. In the rest of the country there are only individuals or families.
A long history of peaceful co-existence
"Salesians have been present here since 2000. They were sent by the Holy See at the invitation of the Azeri government, which asked for priests to be sent in order to accompany the small Catholic community," says Fr. Fekete, adding: "Relations between Catholics and Muslims are good, as Pope Francis stated. This land was a Christian kingdom for a long time since the first century: when the Muslims arrived, a large portion of the population gradually converted to the Muslim faith but over the course of the centuries there have always been communities of Christians and Jews present and co-exixtence has never been problematic.This past is a beautiful root which the president and government care deeply about: political action aims to support and encourage peaceful and industrious relations. Islam is generally thought of as a monolithic religion but it is actually multifaceted: Azeri Muslims are characterised by openness, respect and tolerance. For many years now I have been holding monthly meetings with representatives of Azerbaijan's traditional religions, therefore with the Sheikh of Muslims of the Causasus region, Allahshukur Pashazadeh, the Orthodox Archbishop Aleksandr and the representative of Jewish communities Millik Yevdayev: we talk about the lives of our faithful, we advise each other. They are very useful opportunities for exchanging experiences. We also often participate together in meetings organised by the government."
The voice of Muslims
One of Fr. Fekete's friends is 52-year-old Gunduz Babayev, who is married with three children and heads a department of the Caucasian Muslims Office, who states: "Real believers cannot accept fear, including Islamophobia. They must set an example by teaching love and respect for others: every true religion has this duty. In Azerbaijan, real religious belonging is not a cause of division; each person lives accordng to their faith but al of us believe in one single Creator. Personally, I make no distinctions based on faith, I respect those who believe in one God and seek to do good. Our country is proud of the tolerance that exists among its inhabitants and I am convinced that Catholics can contribute to fostering this aspect that is unique to Azerbaijan."
Gunduz Babayev's words are echoed by 23-year-old journalist Kasim Talibov: "Here, faithful of different religions get along, no problems have been witnessed. I believe it is important to foster mutual understanding so that we can be increasingly closer and more open towards others. As a Muslim, I show tolerance towards each and every person. I believe that Catholics are fostering the country's development by assisting the elderly, the homeless and the needy." 58-year-old Rasim Musaffarli, who is married with two daughters and works as an editor, says he gets on well with Catholics. And adds: "I believe that genuinely religious people (of different religions) who live together in peace can help others to understand that there is One and Only God. In my opinion, co-existence between faithful in Azerbaijan is able to contribute to this country's progress, helping to liberate occupied territories."
The life of the Catholic community
When the Salesian fathers arrived in 2000, a small chapel dedicated to Christ the redeemer was erected. After John Paul II's visit in 2002, the government gave the community a land on which the Church of the Immaculate Conception was built: the Sheikh, whom Fr. Fekete describes as "a very open man", wanted to contribute to its construction with a personal offering of $10,000. Over the years, a pastoral centre and the oratory were added onto the church,w here daily masses are celebrated.
Social and educational projects
"We also seek to develop social and educational projects," Fr. Fekete says. "Society is slowly coming to understand that the Catholic Church does not only look after its "own" but seeks to serve everyone - wherever it is based - showing special attention to the most vulnerable. We currently provide assistance to the poor who turn to the house of the Missionaries of Charity for help. We have also opened a rehabilitation school with teachers, including Muslim teachers, attended by 400 youngsters and have launched a long-distance adoption programme for daughters of single women or couples in need."
Pope Francis' encouragement
Pope Francis' visit, Fr. Fekete continues, "brought great joy to Catholic faithful, who happily hastened to meet him: there was a high level of attendance at the solemn mass. The Pope, with his informal and affectionate way of being, encouraged us to go on with faith, without fear: his words were an important stimulus for us." Rasim Musaffarli is positive about the outcome of the Pope's visit and Gunduz Babayev concludes by saying that the Pope's presence in Azerbaijan was an historic event. Francis visited a Muslim country, he spoke to faithful int he mosque: he is a crucial example of interreligious dialogue."