Pope Francis will visit Azerbaijan already this Sunday. The leader of the Roman Catholic Church and Sovereign of the Vatican City has started his Caucasian tour. Today he arrived in Georgia.
The pontiff will arrive in Baku on Sunday morning to serve a holy mass in the Church of the Blessed Virgin Mary. There will be a meeting with believers, including priests from other countries.
Then Pope Francis will hold talks with the Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev and visit the monument to those who died in the struggle for independence of Azerbaijan and the Heydar mosque, where he will meet with the chairman of the Caucasian Muslims Office, Sheikh-ul-Islam Allahshukur Pashazade.
Political scientist Rovshan Ibragimov, speaking with a correspondent of Vestnik Kavkaza, noted that the Pope's visit to Baku should be considered primarily in terms of symbolic, cultural and governmental importance, while the directly religious matters will be just framing of his meetings in Azerbaijan.
"As you know, Azerbaijan declared the 2016 the Year of Multiculturalism, and the Pope's visit is very meaningful as part of this year. The Catholic community of Azerbaijan is small, the majority of Catholics in the country are citizens of other countries, for example, employees of the Italian and Polish embassies and employees of various foreign companies. Azerbaijan is a secular state, with majority of its population following the Muslim religion, but this is the symbolic importance of the visit of Pope Francis. It shows how strong our traditions of multiculturalism in respect of non-Muslim religions are, and how high it is appreciated by these confessions, despite the small Catholic community in Azerbaijan," Rovshan Ibrahimov.
The expert expects that the Pope's meeting with the President of the Republic will devoted to very active Azerbaijani-Vatican contacts. "The relations between Vatican and Azerbaijan are very close and, in the first place, we should note the work carried out by the Heydar Aliyev Foundation to restore and preserve the heritage of the Roman Catholic Church. The Fund has participated in the restoration of Saint Marcellino and Pietro's Catacombs and manuscripts of the Vatican Apostolic Library. In this regard, the visit is more of cultural nature than the religious one," he noted.
"At the global level, the visit of Pope Francis sends the message to the world that we all live on one planet and in order to survive here, we need to recognize each other, sharing and supporting the right of others to exist," Rovshan Ibrahimov concluded, adding that the symbolism of the visit is more important than its religious significance.