VATICAN CITY, MARCH 18, 2008 (Zenit.org).- Benedict XVI’s secretary of state described Armenia and Azerbaijan as two model countries for ecumenical and interreligious relations.
By invitation of the religious and civil authorities of the two former-Soviet countries, and in the name of the Pope, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone visited the neighboring nations from March 4 to 9.
Upon his return to Rome, he offered a review of his trip in an interview with L’Osservatore Romano and Vatican Radio and Television. The complete interview was transcribed in Sunday’s issue of L’Osservatore Romano.
The cardinal described Armenia as characterized by the “coexistence of the ancient Armenian Apostolic community and the Catholic community of Armenians,” and a “very developed" ecumenical dialogue.
Cardinal Bertone visited Karekin II, supreme patriarch and Catholicos of All Armenians, on March 4 at the Mother Cathedral of Holy Etchmiadzin.
In the interview after the trip, the Pope’s secretary of state recalled hallmarks in the relationship of the Armenian Apostolic Church with the Catholic Church, notably the visit to Rome of Karekin I. Cardinal Bertone said the relationship of John Paul II and Karekin I, and later Karekin II, could be considered a friendship.
“We await soon the visit to Rome of Catholicos Karekin II,” he affirmed. “There is an intense, positive dialogue, a great sense of collaboration, a reciprocal esteem.”
For its part, in Azerbaijan “a large Muslim community coexists with two small communities, Catholic and Orthodox,” the cardinal affirmed.
He noted in particular the relationship of the chairman of the Caucasian Muslims Office, Sheik Allashukur Pashazade, with the Church and the Pope.
“The esteem that this great Muslim authority shows for the Catholic Church, for the Pope, is very high and has not wavered. Also in these recent times, it has been shown in his public addresses, before the leaders of the Muslim communities of Azerbaijan and of the Caucasian [office].”
Both countries, according to an ancient tradition that Cardinal Bertone cited, “were evangelized by the Apostles Bartholomew and Thaddeus.” And, he said, in this capital “of a Muslim country […] the archeological remains are conserved with respect, signs of the remains of the first Christian evangelization.”
Regarding Armenia, the cardinal said he would cherish, among other things, “the unforgettable memory of the devotion and the religiosity of the Armenian people […] a recollection that becomes also a prayer, that becomes a communion of intentions, collaboration in the ecumenical field and the interreligious field.”
And in Azerbaijan, the Vatican official affirmed, “I have concretely seen the esteem that the little Churches enjoy — the Russian Orthodox Church and the Catholic Church. We’re talking about some 390 or perhaps 400 Catholics. It is a model of coexistence, because, for example, the president, with the agreement of the Muslim sheik, offered the land for the reconstruction of the church of the Catholic community that had been destroyed under the Communist regime.”
“It is a sign that gives proof of a respect for other religions, both on the part of the political authorities and on the Muslim religious authorities” in a country where “certainly the traits of a modern, lay society can be seen, but that nevertheless recognizes the public value of religions for the development and peaceful coexistence in a political community,” he added. “It seems to me, then, that below this profile is an imitable model, I would say, an exportable one, naturally with peaceful means, because if not, we would go against the principle of liberty.”
Azerbaijan is to be imitated as well, Cardinal Bertone affirmed, “because it’s not about mere ‘tolerance’ in the negative sense,” as “a forced attitude” but rather a “positive tolerance that helps the other religions to express themselves, even publicly.”