Papal Address Ends First Day in Azerbaijan

AZERBAIJAN, May 22, 02 ( - Pope John Paul II called for greater integrity and "transparency" in public life, as he met with the political and cultural leaders of Azerbaijan.

Recognizing the country's religious leaders during his address at the presidential palace in Baku, the Holy Father praised Azerbaijan for recognizing religious freedom. He praised both Islamic and Christian clerics for their efforts to "preserve the ancient customs of good neighbors." He made a special mention of the local Orthodox Bishop Aleksander Iscein, who had made his church available to Catholics when they had no place to worship.

The Pope spoke to a group of 500 people-- nearly all men-- led by President Heydar Aliyev. He said that political life in particular is marked by ethical challenges, and urged the Azeri leaders to strive for thorough candor and honesty in their dealings with each other and with their people.

The Pontiff appeared frail during his first day in the former Soviet republic, and at the presidential palace he read only a portion of his prepared text, leaving the remainder to be read by an aide-- as he had done during the airport welcoming ceremony earlier in the day. But at the conclusion of the text, the Pope himself improvised some additional remarks, thanking his hosts-- and the youngsters who had sung at a reception-- before leaving for his overnight stay at the Irshad hotel.

The papal stay in a hotel is unprecedented. On all of his previous trips, the Pope has stayed at the residence of a local bishop, or papal nuncio, or at a monastery. But there is no bishop's residence in Azerbaijan, because there is no bishop. There are only about 120 Catholics in the country-- by far the smallest Catholic representation of any country John Paul II has visited. The papal envoy to Azerbaijan, Archbishop Claudio Gugerotti, also serves as nuncio in neighboring Armenia and Georgia.

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22. mai 2002

av Webmaster publisert 23.05.2002, sist endret 23.05.2002 - 00:34