On 3 May the Head of the Department of Interethnic Relations, Multiculturalism and Religious Issues of the Presidential Administration of the Republic of Azerbaijan Etibar Najafov visited St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Baku, got acquainted with the art gallery, prayer hall in the building of the church and administrative building. Further a meeting was held with the Ordinary of the Apostolic Prefecture of the Catholic Church in the Republic of Azerbaijan, Bishop Valdimir Fekete.
The issues of cooperation and its development prospects were thoroughly discussed at the meeting.
During the conversation Bishop Vladimir Fekete gave profound information on the history and activities of Catholicism in our country, expressed his high satisfaction with the care of the state for the community.
Etibar Najafov spoke of the National Leader Heydar Aliyev’s high attention to and care for the Catholic religious community and the successful continuation of this policy by President Ilham Aliyev at present. The Head of the Department also pointed out the I Vice-President of the Republic of Azerbaijan Mehriban Aliyeva’s special attention to the Catholic community and the close cooperation between Heydar Aliyev Foundation and the Roman Catholic Church.
Bishop Valdimir Fekete was presented the book “The President of the Republic of Azerbaijan on the Azerbaijani Model of Multiculturalism”.
The Senior Consultant of the Department of Interethnic Relations, Multiculturalism and Religious Issues of the Presidential Administration of the Republic of Azerbaijan Jeyhun Mammadov was also present at the meeting.
It should be noted that the development period of the Catholic communities in Azerbaijan coincided with the Middle Ages. In this period the representatives of the Roman Catholic Church settled in Baku, Shamakhi, Ganja, Tabriz, Nakhchivan and other cities and established monasteries, churches and educational centres. Although following the occupation of Northern Azerbaijan by the Russian Empire, all the Catholic communities ceased their activities, the period from the second half of the XIX century to the early XX century was characterized as an important stage in the life of the community. Since, in this period the number of the foreigners representing Catholic Christianity and other Western Churches in Azerbaijan grew. The reason for this was associated with “the oil boom”, the Caucasian exile of the participants of the Polish uprising and the Catholics from all regions of the Russian Empire.
In the 80s of XIX century the number of Catholics in Baku exceeded thousand people. Baku congregation gained independence in this very period. Later a construction of the church in honour of the Virgin Pregnancy of St. Mary (1895) was launched, and its activities were approved by the Tsar’s Decree in 1900. Further, the Holy Cross Church was built in 1903 in Baku cemetery and in 1912 a catholic temple of St. Mary’s Virgin Pregnancy was constructed in Gothic style.
After the Soviet Union collapsed, and the Republic of Azerbaijan regained its independence, the revival of Catholicism was promoted in our country. Especially, the National Leader Heydar Aliyev’s important role in the development of the local Catholic community is undeniable. His care for the local Catholic believers increased the development of the Catholic community in our Republic.
At present this policy is being successfully continued by our State Leader Ilham Aliyev. At the time of highly diplomatic relations between the Republic of Azerbaijan and the state of Vatican, the profound state support embracing the Catholic church affords ground for it.
It should be noted that the Catholic community was first registered officially at the State Committee on the Work with Religious Organizations on 31 January 2002. In May of the same year an unforgettable event took place in the history of the Catholics in our country. As, at the National Leader Heydar Aliyev’s invitation the Roman Pope John Paul II paid an official visit to our country. The pontifex’ trip opened a new page in the fate of the Catholics in Azerbaijan. The Head of the Catholic Church, who was met by the National Leader Heydar Aliyev at the airport, conducted a liturgy at the Palace of Hand Games following numerous ceremonies and meetings.
During the Roman Pope’s tour another event important for the local Catholics also took place. By the Instruction of the National Leader Heydar Aliyev an area was allocated in the territory of the district of Khatai for the construction of a Catholic temple. Consequently, in February 2007 a Catholic Church was erected in the centre of Baku. On 26 September 2008 a memorandum of cooperation was signed between Heydar Aliyev Foundation and the Catholic community in our country. According to the document, the parties are aimed to implement the development and reconstruction projects in the defined areas, render assistance to the social and religious facilities, and realize the activities targeted at the development of the ethno-cultural components of the peoples settled in Azerbaijan. The classical stained-glass panel describing the descending of the Holy Spirit to the disciples and the ceramic panel picture dealing with the secrets in Holy Rosary’s prayers were presented to the Church of “Saint Virgin Mary’s Innocent Pregnancy” by Heydar Aliyev Foundation in the frames of this Memorandum.
Important cultural projects are being implemented while relations between the Foundation and the Holy Throne are increasing day by day. On 3 June 2014 two contracts were signed by the Foundation to restore the monument to Zeus in the Museum of Vatican as well as to reconstruct the hall “Sistina”. On 2 June 2014 a new contract was signed by the President of Heydar Aliyev Foundation and Jean Louis Brugeus on “The Restoration of New Manuscripts and Their Digitalization in 2015-2016”. Also, on 23 February 2016 there was an opening ceremony of Saint Marcellino and Pietro catacombs restored with the support of the Foundation according to the bilateral Contract concluded with the state of Vatican in 2012.
One more example demonstrating the high level of the relations between Azerbaijan and Vatican is the Roman Pope Francis’ official visit to our country on 2 October 2016. In the frames of this historic visit Pope Francis first performed the ritual of a liturgy in the Catholic Church in Baku and met with the members of the Catholic community.
Further, there was an official meeting ceremony of Pope Francis. After the ceremony President Ilham Aliyev and Mrs. Mehriban Aliyeva as well as other family members had a meeting with the Roman Pope Francis.
The Pope visited the Martyrs’ Alley as well, laid a wreath in front of the monument “Eternal Torch”. Then the President of the Republic of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev and the Roman Pope Francis gave speeches before the public representatives in Heydar Aliyev Centre. Here Pope Francis met with Azerbaijan’s cultural, art, literary and scientific figures, wrote about his impressions in the visitors’ book of Heydar Aliyev Centre.
Also, in the frames of the trip the Roman Pope Francis visited Heydar Aliyev Mosque, and met here with the representatives of the religious communities operating in our country. At Heydar Aliyev Mosque he was met by the Sheikh ul-Islam of the Caucasian Muslims Office Allahshukur Pashazadeh who gave him extensive information about Heydar Mosque.
The above mentioned facts substantiate to state that the relations with the Catholic community and its centre – the Holy Throne in our Republic are not established in the format of simple relations between the state and religion. This should not be considered an ordinary case. It’s true that the number of the Catholics in our country is not great. They even lag behind in number if compared with the other Christians here. However, the historic facts show that for its antiquity Catholicism comes right after the Alban Church among the Christian confessions in Azerbaijan. Simply, each time the flow of history and its course disconnected this tradition.
The Apostolic prefecture tries to cooperate and maintain the relations of friendship with various religious institutions existing in our Republic, including the Caucasian Muslims Office, Alban Udi Christian Religious Community, Baku and Azerbaijan Eparchy of the Russian Orthodox Church. It has become a tradition to invite the leadership of the prefecture to the state events and significant holiday ceremonies.