Baku, Azerbaijan, Oct 2, 2016 / 07:20 am (CNA/EWTN News).- In a meeting with political leaders Sunday, Pope Francis praised the peaceful relationship among Catholics, Muslims, Orthodox, and Jews in Azerbaijan, criticizing those who use God as a defense in religiously-motivated violence.
In his Oct. 2 speech, Francis said that during his brief visit, he has been particularly pleased to see “the cordial relations enjoyed by the Catholic, Muslim, Orthodox and Jewish” communities.
“It is my hope that the signs of friendship and cooperation may continue to increase,” he said, stressing that “the attachment to authentic religious values is utterly incompatible with the attempt to violently impose on others one’s own vision, using God’s holy name as 'armor.'”
Pope Francis met with the president of the Republic of Azerbaijan, Ilham Aliyev and his wife, as well as other authorities and members of the Diplomatic Corps, in the capital city of Baku Oct. 2, the last of this three-day visit to Georgia and Azerbaijan, both of which have a small minority Catholic presence.
It is estimated that there are only about 600-700, Roman Catholics in Azerbaijan, only 200 of whom have citizenship. The Pope’s visit to the country marks the first time he has traveled to a majority Shi’ite nation. Georgia was a majority Georgian Orthodox.
“I am pleased to be visiting Azerbaijan, and I thank you for your warm welcome to this city, the country’s capital, on the shore of the Caspian Sea,” the Pope said, pointing to the transformation of the city with new buildings, including the modern Heydar Aliyev Center, where the encounter was held.
He noted how Oct. 18 marks the day Azerbaijan celebrates 25 years of their independence from the Soviet Union. “This occasion affords the possibility of taking comprehensive stock of these decades, of the progress achieved and of the challenges which the country is facing,” the Pope said.
“I have come to this country full of admiration for the intricacy and richness of your culture, fruit of the contribution of so many peoples who in the course of history have inhabited these lands.”
The people are who have given life to a “fabric of experiences, values and distinctive features” characterizing contemporary society in Azerbaijan, Francis noted.
“The road traveled thus far shows clearly the significant efforts undertaken to strengthen institutions and to promote the economic and civic growth of the nation.”
This path, he said, “requires constant attention towards all, especially the weakest, and one which is possible thanks to a society which recognizes the benefits of multiculturalism and of the necessary complementarity of cultures.”
Even though it is a small presence in the country, the Catholic Church, the Pope said, “is truly present in the civic and social life of Azerbaijan; it participates in its joys and shares the challenges of confronting its difficulties.”
Pope Francis had previously met with Aliyev and his wife at the Vatican March 6, 2015, where they discussed, in part, the life of the Catholic Church in the country, the promotion of interreligious dialogue, and the importance of negotiation in conflict resolution.
In 2011, an international agreement with the Holy See was ratified in Azerbaijan, further cementing a “stable regulatory framework for the life of the Catholic community” in the country.
In his speech, the Pope emphasized how important it is, especially at the present time, to show the world how it is possible to express one's own ideas and worldview without abusing the rights of those with differing perspectives.
“The world, unfortunately, is experiencing the tragedy of many conflicts fueled by intolerance,” he said, “which in turn is fomented by violent ideologies and by the effective denial of the rights of the weakest.”
A culture of peace is only fostered by an “untiring willingness for dialogue and by the awareness that there is no reasonable alternative to patiently and assiduously searching for shared solutions.”
It is also necessary, he continued, for harmony to be promoted between states, just as much as within them. “In this way, peoples will be spared grave suffering and painful wounds, which are difficult to heal.”
“I am confident that, with the help of God, and the good will of those involved, the Caucasus will be a place where, through dialogue and negotiation, disputes and differences will be resolved and overcome,” Pope Francis said, concluding his address.
“By such means, this area – 'a gateway between East and West,' in the beautiful image used by St. John Paul II when he visited your country – will also become a gateway open to peace, and an example to which we can look to solve old and new conflicts.”