- Title: Azerbaijan's Catholic community awaits historic visit by Pope Francis
- Date: 30th September 2016
- Summary: PRIEST AND CHURCH MEMBERS CARRYING CROSS TO ALTAR MOSAIC ICON ALTAR SERVERS
- Embargoed: 15th October 2016 09:42
- Keywords: Pope Francis Azerbaijan Catholocism visit church preparations
- Location: BAKU, AZERBAIJAN
- City: BAKU, AZERBAIJAN
- Country: Azerbaijan
- Topics: Society/Social Issues
- Reuters ID: LVA00251RCDVR
- Aspect Ratio: 16:9
- Story Text: Azerbaijan's small Catholic community is awaiting a historic visit by Pope Francis set for Sunday (October 2).
Pope Francis is scheduled to visit ex-Soviet Georgia first for a two-day trip, before flying to Baku.
There are very few Roman Catholics in either country. Azerbaijan is about 95 percent Muslim while over 80 percent of Georgians are Eastern Orthodox Christians.
Pope Francis will meet with political and religious leaders in Azerbaijan, including private talks with the sheikh of Muslims in the Caucasus at the Heydar Aliyev mosque.
Members of the congregation at the Church of the Virgin Mary's Immaculate Conception in Baku say they hope the Pope's visit will bring with it spiritual awakening.
"In a political and in a spiritual sense - for us the congregation (Pope's visit) holds great importance. Because we expect that after his arrival, with his arrival, we - myself personally and other people in the congregation - will experience a spiritual renewal. We will have new revelations from God. And we hope that the number of Catholics in Azerbaijan will grow," said Azeri Catholic, Mushfiq Bayramov.
Parish priest Father Vladimir Baxa said Azeri Catholics and Muslims led a peaceful coexistence.
"In Azerbaijan Catholics are accepted by society, by authorities and by ordinary people. The majority of people consider themselves Muslim, but acknowledge that there are others who consider themselves Catholics. I can say that it is peaceful coexistence of the Muslims, Catholics, Orthodox, Jewish people and other religious communities," said Father Baxa during a recent service.
The Vatican announced the visit in April, just a day after combatants in the region agreed to cease fighting that had killed dozens over a week. Azerbaijan's military and Armenian-backed separatists were locked in shelling and artillery strikes for four days over the breakaway Nagorno-Karabakh region, stoking fears of all-out war.
The Vatican has not mentioned the conflict since announcing the trip.
Earlier this year Pope Francis visited Armenia, where again very few Catholics live and over 90 percent of the population are Oriental Orthodox Christians.
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