BAKU, MAY 22, 2002 (Zenit.org).- John Paul II introduced himself as an “ambassador of peace” during his meeting with world leaders of religion, politics, culture, and art.
“I have come to Azerbaijan as an ambassador of peace. As long as I have breath within me I shall cry out: ´Peace, in the name of God!´” he said in his last public meeting on Wednesday.
“And when word joins word, a chorus is born, a symphony, which will spread to every soul, quench hatred, disarm hearts,” the Pope added.
“Peace” was the word the Pope repeated most during the first day of his stay in this former Soviet Republic, which gained independence 11 years ago, and has a mostly Muslim population of just under 8 million.
In the Presidential Palace, the Pope was welcomed Heidar Aliev, President of Azerbaijan, and former Soviet Communist, who for years repeatedly invited the Pope to visit Baku. After his welcome, he received the highest exponents of Azerbaijani social life.
Following his brief greeting, and to conserve his energy, the Holy Father requested one of his collaborators to read in Russian the address he prepared for the occasion.
“From this country, which has held and still holds tolerance as a primary value of all wholesome life in society, we wish to proclaim to the world: enough of wars in the name of God! No more profanation of his holy name!” the text read.
Identity and Search for Beauty
Given the present crisis of identity that impels some to opt for fundamentalism or violence, the Pope said that the contribution of the world of culture and art is indispensable.
“Beauty, as you know, is the light of the spirit. The soul, when it is calm and reconciled, when it lives in harmony with God and the universe, emits a light that is already a kind of beauty,” the Pope said, often quoting Persian poet Nizami, born in Azerbaijan during the 12th century.
“Holiness is nothing other than fullness of beauty, as it reflects, according to its ability, the consummate beauty of the Creator,” John Paul II added.
Therefore, the present challenge consists in transmitting “a taste for beauty,” adding that “as the ancients teach us, beauty, truth, and goodness are united by an indissoluble bond.”
Pope John Paul dedicated a special part of his address to Azeri politicians, aware that they move in “an ambit full of dangers.” In fact, corruption is an omnipresent reality in Azerbaijan.
“Politics requires honesty and accountability. The people should be able to feel understood and protected,” otherwise they might “feel dangerous nostalgia for the past,” the Pope stressed.
Pope Stays in Hotel
The 96th international trip of this 24-year pontificate has a small novelty. As there is no Apostolic Nunciature in the country, for the first time, a Pope is a guest in a hotel.
The 13-room Irshad Hotel is a modest lodge at some distance from Baku. While the Pope is in Azerbaijan, the Azeri government has granted the hotel extraterritorial status, such as embassies enjoy throughout the world.
On Thursday, John Paul II will celebrate Mass in Baku´s Sports Palace, and he will then take lunch with the Salesian community in the country, which directs this mission territory.
After meeting with leaders of the monotheist religions–the leader of the Caucasus Muslims, the Orthodox Bishop of Baku, and the president of the Jewish community–the Holy Father will fly to Sofia, capital of Bulgaria, a country where he will remain until Sunday, May 26.