John Paul II Denounces All Violence In The Name Of God Upon Arrival In Baku

Azerbaijan, One of the Countries with the Least Number of Catholics, Welcomes Him with Solemnity

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BAKU, MAY 22, 2002 ( John Paul II, the first Roman Pontiff to visit the predominantly Muslim Azerbaijan, reminds humanity that no one may justify violence in the name of God.

In the welcome ceremony, held in Baku´s international airport, Heidar Aliev, President of the Republic that became independent from the Soviet Union in 1991, stressed the historical importance of the 96th international trip of this pontificate for understanding among believers of different religions.

Though the Azeri Republic has 130 Catholics, the Pope has wished to show them through his long trip and 25-hour stay, that they too are an integral part of the universal Church.

From Baku the «city of the wind,» the Pontiff made a heartfelt appeal in context of the aftermath following the September 11 attacks. «No one has the right to call upon God to justify their own selfish interests,» he said.

«Everyone must be committed to peace. But it must be true peace, based on mutual respect, on the rejection of fundamentalism and every form of imperialism, on the pursuit of dialogue as the only effective means of resolving tensions, so that entire nations are saved from the cruelty of violence,» the Pope said, in Russian.

«The religions which in this country are striving to work together in harmony should not be used as a tragic excuse for enmities which have their origin elsewhere,» the Pope continued in his initial greeting. One of the collaborating priests of the Vatican State Secretariat concluded for the Holy Father, in Russian.

«Here at the gateway to the East, not far from where armed conflict continues, cruelly and senselessly, to prevail, I wish to raise my voice, in the spirit of the Assisi meeting,» John Paul II said, in a formal ceremony.

In fact, the atmosphere at the airport was not that of a popular celebration, usually characterizing the Pope´s welcome in other countries. The only ones present were political authorities, the diplomatic corps in Azerbaijan, and the papal entourage that arrived from Rome on an Alitalia flight.

«I ask religious leaders to reject violence as offensive to the name of God, and to be tireless promoters of peace and harmony, with respect for the rights of one and all,» John Paul II emphasized.

Nor did the Holy Father forget the emigrants and refugees. «My thoughts go also to the emigrants and refugees in this country and throughout the whole of Caucasus. With the help of international solidarity, may their hopes be restored for a future of prosperity and peace in their own lands for themselves and for their dear ones.»

Hundreds of thousands of refugees fled before the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan, caused by the Nagorno Karabaj enclave, inhabited in the majority by Armenian people. A cease-fire was reached in 1994.

Azerbaijan lost close to 20% of its territory and now must support some 750,000 refugees as a result of the conflict. John Paul II visited Armenia last year.

The Holy Father ended his speech by addressing the small number of Catholics in the country. «Christians of the whole world look with sincere attachment to these brothers and sisters in the faith, certain that, although they are few, they can make a significant contribution to the progress and prosperity of their homeland, in a climate of freedom and mutual respect.»

«I am certain that the Lord will compensate for the tragic difficulties endured during the time of Communism, also by the Catholic community, with the gift of lively faith, exemplary moral commitment and local vocations for pastoral and religious service,» the Pope concluded.

After the welcome ceremony, John Paul II paid respect to those who died for the independence of Azerbaijan and then made a courtesy visit to President Aliev in the presidential palace.

Lastly, the Holy Father met with representatives of religions present in Azerbaijan, as well as exponents of the world of politics, culture, and art.

John Paul II will leave for Bulgaria tomorrow afternoon.

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