Pope praises re­li­gious free­dom in coun­try

Jamaica Gleaner - - INTERNATIONAL NEWS -

BAKU (AP): POPE FRAN­CIS praised Azer­bai­jan on Sun­day as a model for a world di­vided by vi­o­lent ex­trem­ism, sidestep­ping crit­i­cism of the gov­ern­ment for the sake of en­cour­ag­ing re­li­gious tol­er­ance in an of­ten volatile re­gion where Catholics are a mi­nor­ity.

Fran­cis avoided di­rect men­tion of crit­i­cism in the West over al­le­ga­tions of hu­man-rights abuses in Azer­bai­jan and a re­cent gov­ern­ment ref­er­en­dum that ex­tends the pres­i­dent’s term and gives him new pow­ers.

The pope ad­dressed a gath­er­ing of Mus­lim, Jewish and Or­tho­dox lead­ers in Azer­bai­jan’s main mosque be­fore head­ing back to Rome af­ter a week­end Cau­ca­sus visit that first took him to Ge­or­gia.

“From this highly sym­bolic place, a heart­felt cry rises up once again: No more vi­o­lence in the name of God!” Fran­cis said. “May his most holy name be adored, not pro­faned or bartered as a com­mod­ity through forms of ha­tred and hu­man op­po­si­tion.”

The pope spent his 10 hours in the Az­eri cap­i­tal of Baku cel­e­brat­ing one of the world’s small­est Catholic com­mu­ni­ties and the good re­la­tions it en­joys with Azer­bai­jan’s Shi­ite Mus­lim ma­jor­ity and its Jewish, Or­tho­dox and other re­li­gious mi­nori­ties. There are only about 300 Az­eri Catholics in Azer­bai­jan, though the com­mu­nity also in­cludes sev­eral thou­sand for­eign­ers.

“These good re­la­tions as­sume great sig­nif­i­cance for peace­ful co­ex­is­tence and for peace in the world,” Fran­cis told Pres­i­dent Il­ham Aliyev and gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials. “They demon­strate that among fol­low­ers of dif­fer­ent re­li­gious con­fes­sions, cor­dial re­la­tions, re­spect and co­op­er­a­tion for the com­mon good are pos­si­ble.”

As a case in point, Fran­cis cel­e­brated Mass in Baku’s new Catholic Church, which was built with the fi­nan­cial help of Mus­lims and Jews, ac­cord­ing to the Sale­sian priests who pre­side there. The Az­eri gov­ern­ment do­nated a plot of land on the out­skirts of the cap­i­tal af­ter St John Paul II vis­ited in 2002, but it took the help of non-Chris­tians to get the struc­ture built.

AP

Pope Fran­cis pays his re­spects in front of the mon­u­ment to the fallen for the in­de­pen­dence in Baku, Azer­bai­jan, on Sun­day.

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