Holy See Statement on Azerbaijan Accord

“Today Is to Be Regarded As a High Point in Our Relations”

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VATICAN CITY, JULY 8, 2011 (Zenit.org).- Here is the address Archbishop Dominique Mamberti, secretary for relations with states, delivered Wednesday on the occasion of the exchange of instruments of ratification of the agreement between the Holy See and the Republic of Azerbaijan.

The Agreement, which is written in English and Azeri and includes a preamble and eight articles, regulates the position of the Catholic Church in Azerbaijan. It comes into force with the exchange of instruments of ratification, as per article 8 of the Agreement itself.

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Your Excellency,

Distinguished Members of the Azerbaijani Delegation!

I am pleased to welcome Your Excellency to the Vatican for the exchange of the instruments of ratification of the Agreement between the Holy See and the Republic of Azerbaijan, signed on 29 April 2011 in Baku. With today’s important Act this Agreement enters into force.

The Holy See and the Republic of Azerbaijan, in recent decades, have demonstrated a desire to develop and strengthen relationships.

In 2002 the unforgettable visit of the late Pope John Paul II to Azerbaijan was a sign of his great love for your country, its history and culture. His visit initiated a new era of mutual understanding, cooperation and inter-religious dialogue.

The President of Azerbaijan, H.E. Ilham Aliyev, was present at the Pope’s solemn funeral in the Vatican.

In 2008 His Eminence Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, Secretary of State of His Holiness, on the invitation of the religious and civil Authorities, made a visit to Azerbaijan. During his visit, he conveyed the esteem of Pope Benedict XVI to the Government and expressed the Pope’s closeness to the Catholic faithful. He also met with the head of the Muslims of the Caucasus, Sheikh ul-Islam Allashukur Pashazade, and other religious leaders, in order to express the Catholic Church’s willingness to cooperate in the shared commitment to peace, harmony between peoples and the good of the human family.

I would like to mention also the visit in 2006 of the then Secretary for the Holy See’s Relations with States, Archbishop Giovanni Lajolo, and the visit in 2010 of the President of the Pontifical Council for Culture, Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi. These visits were the culmination of longstanding and continuing cooperation in the cultural realm between the Holy See and the Republic of Azerbaijan.

Furthermore, on the invitation of the Government of Azerbaijan the Holy See regularly attends the Conference of the Intercultural Dialogue Forum in Baku.

In 2010, Your Excellency visited the Vatican and, among other things, you informed me that, with regard to the registration of the Catholic Church, the Government desired to find a solution satisfactory to both parties.

Today is to be regarded as a high point in our relations. The Catholic Church and the Republic of Azerbaijan have achieved a goal and we have confirmed our existing good relations. This historical Agreement, which regulates the juridical status of the Catholic Church in the Republic of Azerbaijan, is a valuable instrument which implements the principle of religious freedom, which is of paramount importance and is reflected in the Constitution of the Republic of Azerbaijan. The Agreement recognizes and registers the juridical personality of the Catholic Church, as well as that of its institutions established on the basis of its legislation. Furthermore, the new registration ensures that the local Catholic Church can live in peace and confidence, so as better to contribute to the common good of the Country.

This event is very meaningful, also because it provides evidence of the respect for a minority religious community shown by a country with a conspicuous Muslim population. This is an indication of how Christians and Muslims can live together and respect one another.

The Agreement does not affect the existence and activities of the many religious communities, Christian and non-Christian, who have been welcome in Azerbaijan, and does not place the Catholic Church in a privileged position. Rather, the Church seeks to carry out its mission within the ambit of its religious competence and with due regard for the laws of the Republic of Azerbaijan.

The coming into force of the Agreement is, however, also a starting point. The consensus reached in areas of mutual interest, such as those cited above, is the clearest sign of our common will to continue to work together, with a new instrument for ensuring the integral formation of each person, as a believer and as a citizen.

On behalf of the Holy See I would like to thank His Excellency President Ilham Aliyev and Your Excellency as well as those who worked with you in the negotiations.

Naturally, our shared hope is that our friendly bilateral relations will now have a fresh impetus to move forward and be intensified. In this, the Permanent Diplomatic Office in Baku will play an important role.

Thank you.

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