Baku ( AsiaNews) - The head of the Caucasus Islamic Department, Sheikh Hadji Allahchukur Pachazadeh, has invited Pope Francis to visit Azerbaijan : "We are happy for his election and we would like to meet him in person". The invitation was made yesterday to Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, president of the Pontifical Council for Culture, on official visit to Baku to organize an exhibition of Azerbaijani art in the Vatican Museums.
The sheikh said: "This is my first encounter with you and so I congratulate you and the Vatican for the election of the Pope. I would like him to come visit Azerbaijan. Mine is an official invitation, which without doubt is shared by the government". The sheikh then expressed his desire to visit the Vatican, and thus Cardinal Ravasi extended an invitation: "Please come, it would be very important for bilateral relations between our states."
The Vatican delegation also met
with the President, Ilham Aliyev , who gave the Cardinal the medal of the Order
Dostluh ( "Friendship" ), one of the most important of Azerbaijan. On
behalf of the Holy See the prelate instead gave the president a medal of the
Vacant and praised the "first lady" Mehriban Aliyeva , head of the
Foundation " Heydar Aliyev " , for her contribution to strengthening
relations between the Vatican and Azerbaijan.
Out of a population of about 10 million people, Azerbaijan is a Muslim majority country. Muslims are 93.4% of the population (over 60 % of Shiite confession), while Christians make up 4.6% , for most Russian or Armenian Orthodox. According to local sources, about 400 Catholics live in the country, mostly foreigners. The government allows religious freedom but closely monitors the practice, especially Islamic: worried by the emergence of a political Islam it has introduced laws and regulations that put mosques and preachers under the wing of the state.