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Why Azerbaijan? Three keys to the pope's upcoming trip

2016-09-22

When the Vatican announced the pope's trip to Georgia and Azerbaijan, it raised many eyebrows. People knew very little about the country, and many did not even know where it was. With a 95 percent Muslim population, it lies in the Caucasus, the region between the Black and the Caspian Sea. 

Stefan Kormancik is a one of the few Catholic priests to have served in Azerbaijan, and he is one of the key contributors to the establishment of the Salesian mission, that serves a small Catholic community of less than 300 churchgoers. He gives us the keys of the pope's trip to this exotic destination. 

FR. STEFAN KORMANCIK
"Before John Paul II visited Azerbaijan we were absolutely unrecognized by the state, because we are a very very small community, after his visit we received land, we built a church, we established a small but very influential community in Azerbaijan, and we hope to continue in this way, so more Catholic, typical Catholic activities will be accepted by the state, after Francis' visit."

The Nagorno-Karabakh conflict is a territorial dispute between Azerbaijan and Armenia over Nagorno-Karabakh, an ethnically Armenian and non-Muslim region. The conflict has been ongoing since the 90s, and has taken many lives, including those of 75 soldiers last April. Fr. Stefan Kormancik hopes the pope's visit will promote reconciliation. 

FR. STEFAN KORMANCIK
"I think no one wants this conflict in the future, so we need to somehow forgive, to give mercy and love each other, and we hope the pope's visit will bring this idea for this conflict.”

During his trip, Pope Francis will meet with the Grand Mufti of the Caucasus. According to Fr. Stefan Kormancik, Azerbaijan is a great example of Pope Francis' spirit of interfaith cooperation.

FR. STEFAN KORMANCIK
"In Azerbaijan there is a very special situation in which two religions live in peace and freedom, we visit each other, I many times have participated in Muslim feasts, Muslim representatives have participated in Christian feasts. You cannot see it very often."

Pope Francis will spend October 2 in Azerbaijan, in what will be a short but very intense visit. He will travel there after his trip to Georgia. These two visits, together with the trip to Armenia last June, are proof of Pope Francis' intentions of reaching out to the Caucasus region.


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