ASIA/AZERBAIJAN - Small Catholic community comes to life in former Communist country

Baku (Fides Service) - Azerbaijan facing the Caspian Sea to the west in the south-west of Asia a former Soviet Union satellite republic has a population of 6.2 million, 84% Muslim mainly Shiite. The is a community of 350 Christians nearly all Russian Orthodox with 150 local Catholics plus about 120 foreign residents.
The Catholic parish of Baku bears the name of Christ Redeemer. The parish church was destroyed in the 1930s under Stalin. The last local Catholic priest Stefan Demurow disappeared at about the same time and probably died in a concentration camp in Siberia. For the next 60 years it was impossible for a Catholic priest to set foot in Baku.
After the fall of the Soviet Union in 1993 when Azerbaijan became independent, a few local Catholics asked to have a priest in a Baku. And in1997 young Fr Jerzy Pilus from Poland arrived in Baku. That first community counted thirty Catholics. With the assistance of seminarians who came periodically from Warsaw, Copenaghen and London — Fr Pilus instructed twenty local people in the faith. Besides Catholics born in Baku the community also includes foreign residents, diplomats, and engineers, technical advisors and others.
For the moment the Catholic community in Baku is still a “domestic church”. The community meets in a house belonging to the local Salesian Fathers who have made rooms available for catechism classes, pastoral activity and charity work.
The community of 150 local Catholics lives in a social context which still suffers the consequences of damage caused by years of atheist Soviet rule. Although today the Christian presence is small, its roots go back to as early as the 1st century. Under Soviet rule Orthodox Christians offered shelter and support to the few remaining Catholic beleivers in an experience of lived ecumenism of priceless value. And today relations between Orthox and Catholics in Baku forged in those difficult years are still very close. Christians in Azerbaijan also live peacefully with the Muslim majority mainly from the moderate Suffi school.
(PA) (Agenzia Fides 10/9/2005 righe 27 parole 281)

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