AZERBAIJAN – Mass stipends for seven priests
Christianity has very ancient roots in Azerbaijan in fact, dating right back to the time of the Gospels. Although today some 90-95% of the population are Muslims, 70 years of communism have meant that in practice no more than about 20% of these even practise their religion today. Christians make up somewhere between 3% and 4% of the population, and most of these belong to the Russian Orthodox Church. There are only around 400 Catholics in the country in fact, of whom some 300 are natives of the country while the remaining hundred are foreigners, living and working here. There is just one single Catholic parish, that of Maria Immakulata in Baku. Each year there are approximately 10 Catholic baptisms in Azerbaijan. Each Sunday there are three Masses celebrated in the parish church. But there is growing interest in catechesis, and the life of the Church is developing, slowly but steadily.
An important moment in the life of the Catholic Church in Azerbaijan was the visit there by Pope John Paul II in May 2002. He brought with him a new awareness of the Catholic presence in the country. President Alijev granted a plot of land to the Catholics at the time, on which the new parish church was built and consecrated in 2007. The former Catholic church had been destroyed by the communists in the 1930s, and the parish priest murdered, along with many of the faithful. Hence the granting of the new plot was also a form of reparation for the church destroyed during the Stalinist era.
In the year 2012, 10 years after the visit by Pope John Paul II, a pastoral centre was opened in the capital Baku, with help from ACN. It was formally blessed by Cardinal Fernando Filoni, the Prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelisation of Peoples. During the ceremony he expressed the wish that the Catholic Church in Azerbaijan should become a “Church in mission” and pray for vocations to the priesthood and religious life, work for the family as the primary cell of society and of the Church and also seek to revive the spirit of apostleship among the laity. At the same time, however, he acknowledged, “I know well that your work here is not easy. You live amid an ocean of non-Christians, where the culture, the mentality and ways of life do not always correspond to our values.”
Today the Apostolic Prefecture of Baku is under the care of the Slovakian Salesian priest, Father Vladimir Fekete. Every year he seeks our help for the seven priests of his prelature. Once again this year we are sending him Mass stipends to the value of 4,800 Euros for the support of his priests. These priests are extremely grateful for this help and more than happy to celebrate Holy Mass for the intentions of their benefactors.