Spiritual leaders eye steps to ensure lasting peace in South Caucasus
By Sabina Mammadli
Caucasus Muslims Office Chairman Sheikh ul-Islam Allahshukur Pashazade and Pope Francis have discussed in the Vatican steps that can contribute to strengthening cooperation, peace, and security in the South Caucasus.
Azerbaijani ambassador to France and the Vatican Rahman Mustafayev made the remarks on his official Twitter page.
The ambassador underlined an "interesting meeting with H.E. Paul Richard Gallagher, Secretary for Relations with States, which focused on the possible role of the Vatican in promoting the Azerbaijani-Armenian reconciliation and in the reparation of damages caused to human relations in the region".
Sharing more details about the visit, he stressed that at the meeting with cardinal Ravasi that the "high level of Azerbaijani-Vatican relations, the crucial role of Azerbaijan in promoting intercultural and interreligious dialogue was underlined, the importance of restoration of destroyed Azerbaïdjani churches and mosques in Karabakh was confirmed".
He also tweeted: "Visiting Basilica of St. Sebastien and its Catacomb museum. More than 10 sarcophagi and 200 monumental sarcophagi sculptured fragments of its prestigious collection were restored by the generous contribution of the Heydar Aliyev Foundation in 2016-2018."
Mustafayev added that as part of the visit, the delegation led by Pashazade also visited Commoodilla catacombs.
"The project of restoration of ancient Roman frescos and paintings, dated early 4th century, supported by the Heydar Aliyev Foundation, is in the process of implementation," the ambassador tweeted.
The policy of tolerance and interfaith dialogue of Azerbaijan was highly accessed by the Vatican.
In another tweet, Mustafayev wrote: "H.E. Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Secretary of State: We in the Vatican are proud of the fact, that all religions in Azerbaijan live peacefully together and collaborate for the good of your society and appreciate the establishment in Baku of platform for inter-religious dialogue."
The Vatican and Azerbaijan’s diplomatic relationship dates back to 1992 when the Vatican was one of the first states to recognize Azerbaijan’s independence.
Since regaining its independence, Azerbaijan has further developed its relationship with the Holy See as proved by the visit of the national leader Heydar Aliyev to Rome in September 1997 and a few years after in 2002 the head of the Catholic Church, John Paul II visited Azerbaijan at Heydar Aliyev's invitation.
For the first time in history, Azerbaijan, being a country with a Muslim majority, contributed to the restoration of Christian monuments in the Vatican and other Christian countries.
The construction of Saint Mary’s Catholic Church in Baku, and the participation of Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the Secretary of the Holy See at its official opening in 2008, have strengthened the ties between the two countries.
Azerbaijan also ensured the restoration of the catacombs of St. Marcellinus, St. Peter, and St. Sebastian in the Vatican. It also funded the restoration of Notre Dame in France.
Moreover, a bilateral treaty was established in 2011, recognizing the official judicial status on the presence of the Catholic Church within the Azerbaijani borders, enhancing the Constitutional provisions which protect the right of recognized religious institutions to organize themselves.
Pope Francis visited Azerbaijan in 2016, being well received and acclaimed in the Shi'i majority country while President Ilham Aliyev visited the Vatican in 2020.
It should be noted that the bill "On the establishment of the Embassy of the Republic of Azerbaijan in the Holy See [the Vatican]" was debated and adopted at the parliament's plenary session on October 29, 2021.
The country, which has always been distinguished by religious tolerance, is committed to its values of multiculturalism and the preservation of religious monuments both in Azerbaijan and abroad.
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