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Pope in Azerbaijan: A Mass for 500 Catholics, and a message to terrorists

2016-10-03

Pope Francis started the last leg of his trip to the Caucasus at the airport in Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan. It's a country with continued tensions with neighboring Armenia and where there are only 500 Catholics.

In fact, the first thing the pope did after landing was to celebrate a Mass for them. He explained that God is not like men who try to change things abruptly or by force. God, he said, is a patient father who guides his children toward a more profound and radical change, a change of heart.

POPE FRANCIS
"God treats us in the same way: He does not indulge our desire to immediately and repeatedly change the world and other people. Instead, He intends primarily to heal the heart, my heart, your heart, and the heart of each person; God changes the world by transforming our hearts."

He celebrated Mass in English, since many from this small community are foreign or diplomatic workers.

He then visited the President of the Republic of Azerbaijan, Ilham Aliyev. Before him and other authorities of the country, he stressed the importance of dialogue to achieve peaceful coexistence. Azerbaijan, and neighboring Armenia, are at odds over the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. A conflict that in April caused more than 30 fatalities.

POPE FRANCIS
"We need to promote a culture of peace, which is fostered by an untiring willingness for dialogue. Also by the awareness that there is no reasonable alternative to patiently and assiduously searching for shared solutions, by means of committed and sustained negotiations."

In front of the Azerbaijan Baku City Shadhidlar Hiyabani Monument to the Fallen Heroes, Pope Francis stayed and prayed for several minutes.

Then he visited the newly opened Heydar Aliyev mosque. He met with the sheikh, Allashukur Pashazadeh, who is a key player in the dialogue between Muslims in the Caucasus, where they are the majority.

From there, he asked for religious freedom and respect: so worldly interests do not end up justifying fundamentalism, imperialism or colonialism.

From the Azerbaijan mosque, the pope once again sent a message to terrorists.

POPE FRANCIS
"From this highly symbolic place, a heartfelt cry rises up once again: no more violence in the name of God! May His most Holy Name be adored, not profaned or bartered as a commodity through forms of hatred and human opposition."

After this meeting, Pope Francis went to the airport to board the plane and end his trip to the Caucasus.

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