Fr. Pravda a Salesian Slovak at age 54, is responsible for Baku´s “Missio sui juris.” Questioned repeatedly over the Pope´s visit, he maintains that “if we look with the eyes of faith, this visit represents a summit of the Pontiff´s missionary activity.”
“He doesn´t just go where great numbers prevail, such as Brazil, the United States, or in the midst of millions of faithful. He also goes where Catholics are just a few dozen, to reinforce their faith, to give witness to the world that no place is foreign to the logic of divine grace.”
“God makes use of everything. This visit is a masterpiece of the Spirit. And the fact that John Paul II undertakes it when he has reached the limit of his strength, tried by age and sickness, is impressive evidence of holiness,” the priest said.
Fr. Pravda´s arrived in Baku in the autumn of 2000, after having worked for many years in Siberia. However, he has not received a very warm welcome in Azerbaijan.
“We have had many problems and no structure; above all, great uncertainty, even at the legal level. My visa always arrived late, and I had to request it every month. I was virtually an illegal immigrant,” the priest explained.
Things changed in the summer of 2001 with the appointment of Rafik Aliev, new government official responsible for Religious Affairs, who has given a safe legal frame to religious communities and accelerated preparations for the Pope´s visit.
“The local Orthodox Church has also given a hand to make the Pope´s visit possible. We have worked in full harmony, also involving the chief Sheikh of the Muslim community,” Fr. Pravda revealed, undoubtedly pleased.
Now he looks forward with great confidence and optimism. As a Salesian, he is genuinely busy: running a dining room for the poor, and a center of professional formation for young people, in a country where the level of education is very low.
“The law prohibits us from carrying out missionary activity, but there are a lot of people who approach the Church. I limit myself to not closing the door in the face of the one who calls,” the priest said, who never imagined he would receive the Pope in his little parish, on the border between Asia and Europe.