VATICAN CITY, NOV. 18, 2004 (Zenit.org).- John Paul II insists that no one has the right to use religion as an instrument of intolerance or violence.
The Pope delivered that message today as he greeted in audience a delegation of Muslim, Orthodox and Jewish religious representatives from Azerbaijan.
The delegation was in Rome to return the Holy Father’s visit in 2002 to their Caucasus country, which has only about 300 Catholics.
Among the guests today were Allahshyukyur Pashazade, leader of the Caucasus Muslims; Orthodox Bishop Aleksandr of Baku and the Caspian region, a member of the Russian Orthodox Church; and the head of the Caucasus Jewish community.
“May your visit to the Pope of Rome be a symbol for the world, namely, may it show that tolerance is possible, and is a value of civilization, which posits the premises for a fuller and more solidaristic human, civil and social development,” John Paul II said in his welcome address.
“No one has the right to present or use religions as instrument of intolerance, as a means of aggression, violence or death,” he stressed in his address, which he delivered in Russian.
“On the contrary, their reciprocal friendship and esteem, if supported also by the government leaders’ commitment to tolerance, constitutes a rich resource of authentic progress and peace,” the Pope said.
“Together — Muslims, Jews, Christians — we wish to address in the name of God and of civilization an appeal to humanity to halt murderous violence and undertake the path of love and justice for all,” the Holy Father continued.
The Pontiff highlighted the fact that “this is the path of religions” and expressed the hope “that God will help us to go forward on this path with perseverance and patience.”
John Paul II also referred to the conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh, an Armenian enclave in Azerbaijani territory, which triggered a war between both states in 1991 and ended with the cease-fire of 1994 and Armenia’s annexation, not only of the disputed territory, but of other Azerbaijani lands as well.
The Pope expressed his heartfelt hope that “Azerbaijan will return to the fullness of peace.” He said that this conflict, “as all other disputes, must be addressed with good will, in the mutual search for reciprocal openings of understanding and in a spirit of genuine reconciliation.”
In a statement published after the meeting, Vatican spokesman Joaquín Navarro Valls revealed that “during the audience the religious leaders confirmed to the Pope their constant commitment to collaborate with peace and to promote peaceful coexistence among the different religions.”
The republic of Azerbaijan, which became independent after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, has 7.8 million inhabitants, mostly Muslims.
The Catholic community in Azerbaijan virtually disappeared during Stalin’s persecutions, and the Catholic church in Baku was destroyed. On the occasion of the Pope’s visit, then President Heider Aliev made available a plot of land in the center of Baku to build a Catholic church.