Catholic Church in Azerbaijan

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The Catholic Church in Azerbaijan is part of the worldwide Catholic Church, under the spiritual leadership of the Pope in Rome. There are about 570[1] local Roman Catholics in the country as of 2016. Azerbaijan is covered entirely by a single Apostolic Prefecture since 2011. The community is served by seven Salesian priests and two friars. In addition, there is a mission of the Missionaries of Charity.[2]

Origins[edit]

Christians have been present in Azerbaijan since the first century AD.[3] Starting from 1320, Catholic missionaries such as Jordanus and Odoric of Pordenone have visited what is now Azerbaijan and have established missions mostly in large cities. In the fourteenth century in Nakhchivan alone, there were 12 missions led by Dominicans, Capuchins, Augustinians, etc. In 1660 Superior of the Capuchin Mission at Isfahan, friar Raphaël du Mans reported Catholic parishes functioning in Baku and Shamakhi.[4] Jesuits arrived and set a mission in Ganja in the 1680s.[5]

In the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, efforts of Bartholomew, a Dominican missionary from Bologna, resulted in the conversion of 28 settlements in Nakhchivan (with Bənəniyar being the largest) into Roman Catholicism. Despite hardships and pressure from the Armenian Apostolic Church, Catholicism survived here for over three centuries, after which it went into decline and by the 1800s was no longer practiced.[6]

Russian and Soviet period[edit]

With the establishment of the Russian rule in the nineteenth century, these lands became a popular destination for members of various Christian denominations. Catholics were represented by ethnic Poles who started immigrating to Baku and Shamakhi in the mid-19th century, Ukrainians, Georgian Catholics, Armenian Catholics, as well as Western Europeans who stayed in Baku on a temporary or permanent basis. The Catholic population of Shamakhi just before the 1859 earthquake and the city's loss of provincial capital status numbered around 250 persons.[7]

The village of Siyaqut in Nakhchivan was founded in the 1850s by Assyrian immigrants from Salmas, Persia and remained the only Chaldean Christian village in the South Caucasus. Beginning in the 1880s, the priest serving in Siyaqut was ordained by the Roman Catholic bishop.[8]

Church of Immaculate Conception (left) before 1917

In the early twentieth century there was a community in Baku made up of Polish, German, and Russian immigrants for whose needs the Church of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary was built in 1912.[9] Two other smaller churches were built throughout the second half of the nineteenth century: in Qusar, where a hussar regiment made up of ethnic Poles had been quartered,[10] and in Zagatala where participants of the 1863 January Uprising had been exiled.[11] In 1916, the number of Catholic church mass attendees in Baku was over 2,500.[12] The arrival of Bolsheviks in 1920 put an end to religious freedoms. In the early 1930s, on the orders of the Stalinist government, the small community's only priest Stefan Demurov was executed.[13] In 1931, the communist authorities demolished the church in Baku.[14] The church in Qusar fell in disuse after the transfer of the hussar regiment in 1918, as few Poles remained in the town. Its building is currently used as an art gallery.[15] The church in Zagatala is now private property.[11]

Post-Soviet period[edit]

As Azerbaijan is a secular country the 1996 law stated that foreigners have freedom of conscience, but denied the right to "carry out religious propaganda", i.e., to preach, under the threat of fines or deportation. Rafig Aliyev, head of the State Committee for Work with Religious Organisations, had declared that this ban for the foreigners to conduct religious work will be amended.[16] The law of the Republic of Azerbaijan (1992) "On freedom of faith" ensures the right of any human being to determine and express his view on religion and to execute this right.

Pope John Paul II visited Azerbaijan in 2002

In 1997, a Slovak priest came to Baku to restart the Roman Catholic community.[13] On 11 October 2000, the mission sui iuris of Baku was established covering the whole of the country, with Daniel Pravda as its first superior. Pravda had worked in Siberia for many years when he became head of the mission, and noted that when he was first appointed, the church had no structure, and there were many problems with the government relating to visas, but when a new Religious affairs official was appointed, problems abated and preparations for a Papal visit gained traction.[17] On May 23, 2002, Pope John Paul II visited the country, despite his increasingly fragile health.[18] He was initially invited by Azerbaijan's president, Heydar Aliyev.[19] Thanks to his visit, President Aliyev gave the Catholic Church a plot of land to build a church.[13] The building was funded by proceeds from Pope John Paul II's book sales and foreign donations.[20] Delegates from Azerbaijan attended the first Congress of Catholic Laity of Eastern Europe in 2003.[21] When Archbishop Claudio Gugerotti, the apostolic nuncio to Azerbaijan, visited the country he encountered many elderly believers who had waited almost 70 years to receive the sacrament of confirmation.[13] St Mary's Catholic Church of Baku, the only Catholic church in the country, was rebuilt, with work nearing its end in March 2007.[22] It was inaugurated by Cardinal Secretary of State Tarcisio Bertone on 7 March 2008, 70 years after it had been shut down by the Soviets.[23][24] The Mission of Baku became on 4 August 2011 the Apostolic Prefecture of Azerbaijan, with a Catholic population of 520.[25] The Apostolic Prefect is the Salesian Father Vladimír Fekete, a Slovak like his predecessors Jozef Pravda and Jan Čapla. Only a few of the Catholics are Azeris, and the congregation's working languages are Russian and English.[26] On April 29, 2011, an accord was reached between the Vatican and the government of Azerbaijan concerning the relations of the two states, and the various rights and freedoms of the Catholic Church and its personnel within the country.[27]

In 2016, Behbud Mustafayev was ordained the first Roman Catholic deacon of Azeri origin by archbishop Paolo Pezzi.[2] On 7 May 2017, he was ordained into priesthood by Pope Francis.[28]

In October 2016, Pope Francis visited Azerbaijan on what was the second papal visit in the country's history during which he emphasised Azerbaijan's embrace of religious diversity.[29]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Profiling Catholic presence in Georgia, Azerbaijan before papal visit.
  2. ^ a b Архиепископ Павел Пецци рукоположил семинариста Бехбуда Мустафаева в сан диакона. Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Moscow. 29 May 2016.
  3. ^ "Groundbreaking for first Catholic church in post-Soviet Azerbaijan". Catholic World News. September 12, 2005. Retrieved 2006-06-18. 
  4. ^ Du Mans, Raphaël. L'Estat de la Perse en 1660. C. Schefer (ed). Paris, 1890
  5. ^ (in Russian) Christianity in Azerbaijan. Realny Azerbaijan. 18 May 2006. Retrieved 29 April 2007
  6. ^ Chardin, John. "The travels of Sir John Chardin, by the way of the Black Sea, through the countries of Circassia, Mingrelia, the country of the Abcas, Georgia, Armenia, and Media, into Persia proper: 1643-1713." Voyages and Travels in All Parts of the World. Ed. John Pinkerton. Vol. 9. London: Strahan and Preston, 1811.
  7. ^ Anar Alizadeh. Christianity in Azerbaijan. Elm va Tahsil, 2016; p. 136.
  8. ^ Brief History of Assyrian Settlement in Russia.
  9. ^ Lowe, Christian (May 23, 2002). "Pope Celebrates Mass in Azerbaijan". Catholic World News. Retrieved 2006-06-18. 
  10. ^ History of the Catholic Church in Azerbaijan. Polonia Azerbaijan.
  11. ^ a b Polish diplomat visits Zagatala district of Azerbaijan.
  12. ^ Anar Alizadeh. Christianity in Azerbaijan. Elm va Tahsil, 2016; p. 142.
  13. ^ a b c d "Faithful Waited 70 Years for Confirmation in Azerbaijan". Zenit News Agency. May 20, 2005. Archived from the original on 2012-09-27. Retrieved 2006-06-18. 
  14. ^ Lowe, Christian (May 23, 2002). "Pope's faltering health causes concern on azerbaijan visit". Agence France Presse. Retrieved 2006-06-18. 
  15. ^ Polskie ślady w Azerbejdżanie - GUSAR.
  16. ^ Corley, Felix (November 1, 2005). "AZERBAIJAN: Selective obstruction of foreign religious workers". Forum 18. Retrieved 2006-06-18. 
  17. ^ Zenit Staff (2002-05-22). "People Are Beginning To Knock On Church´s Door In Azerbaijan". Zenit. Retrieved 2013-02-05. 
  18. ^ Stanley, Alessandra (May 23, 2002). "Frail Pope Takes His Message Of Peace to the Azerbaijanis". New York Times. Retrieved 2006-06-18. 
  19. ^ "Azerbaijan's Few Catholics Ready to Greet Pope". Catholic World News. May 21, 2002. Retrieved 2006-06-18. 
  20. ^ "Catholic Church to open in Azerbaijan". AssA-Irada. August 30, 2005. Retrieved 2006-06-18. 
  21. ^ Zenit Staff (2003-10-09). "1st Congress of Catholic Laity of Eastern Europe Opens in Kiev". Zenit. Retrieved 2013-02-05. 
  22. ^ (in Russian) Construction of Catholic Church in Baku Coming to End Archived 2007-09-27 at the Wayback Machine. by R.Manafli. Echo. 8 March 2007
  23. ^ "Azerbaijan Inaugurates 1st Catholic Church". zenit.org. March 9, 2008. Archived from the original on 2008-03-15. Retrieved 2008-03-19. 
  24. ^ Cardinal Bertone praises religious tolerance in Azerbaijan, opens Nunciature
  25. ^ Annuario Pontificio 2012, p. 1061
  26. ^ Azerbaijani Catholics Celebrating Christmas. 1news.az. 25 December 2009. Retrieved 24 February 2012.
  27. ^ Zenit Staff (2011-07-08). "Holy See Statement on Azerbaijan Accord". Zenit. Retrieved 2013-02-05. 
  28. ^ Domenico Agasso Jr. Il Papa: “I preti sono eletti non per fare carriera ma per servire”. La Stampa. 7 May 2017. Retrieved 23 May 2017.
  29. ^ Jim Yardley. Pope Francis Notes Azerbaijan’s Religious Tolerance, Not Rights Abuses. New York Times. 2 October 2016. Retrieved 23 May 2017.

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