VATICAN CITY, MAR. 8, 2001 (Zenit.org).- At the end of the first official visit by a Vatican official to Iran since the 1979 revolution, Archbishop Jean-Louis Tauran said that relations between Rome and Tehran have seen marked improvement.
The French archbishop, Vatican secretary for relations with states, ended a four-day trip to Iran on Wednesday, during which he met with the leading authorities of the country, including Ayatollah Ali Jamenei, President Mohammad Jatami, Foreign Affairs Minister Kamal Jarazi and Interior Minister Abdolvahed Mousavi Lari.
“The contacts and conversations of these days have enabled me to get to know today´s Iran better, which wishes to make its own contribution to international life, in keeping with its long multicultural and multireligious history,” the archbishop said in a press statement in Tehran.
Archbishop Tauran said he believes that the “dialogue between civilizations and cultures,” launched by President Jatami, who visited John Paul II two years ago, “seems to offer promising prospects.”
The archbishop´s visit also had a missionary character. He met with leaders of the Church and Iranian Catholics, who are a tiny minority of 12,000 in this nation of 65 million.
“The climate of dialogue gave me the possibility to understand better the degree of participation of the local Catholic Church and its institutions in Iranian society,” Archbishop Tauran commented in the press statement.
On the eve of the archbishop´s trip, Vatican spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls said the trip might also serve to explore the possibility of a visit by John Paul II to Iran, the Associated Press reported.
The 1979 Iranian Constitution states that this Islamic Republic is founded on the “belief of the Iranian people in the government of law and justice prescribed in the Koran.” All its codes and laws are based on Islamic norms, and Islam is the state religion.
In its “Report 2000 on Religious Liberty in the World,” Aid to the Church in Need said that, although the Iranian norms state that non-Muslims will be treated justly, the law does not mention religious liberty. Apostasy from Islam may be punished by death, both in the case of the apostate as well as the one who induces another to change his religion.