VATICAN - Cardinal Filoni in Azerbaijan for the 10th anniversary of Blessed John Paul II's visit

Baku (Agenzia Fides) - "I am very happy to be here with you today in Baku, presiding this Eucharistic Celebration and joining you in thanking the Lord on the occasion of the tenth Anniversary of the historic and unforgettable Pastoral Visit of Blessed John Paul II in this country in May of 2002." With these words, the Prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, Cardinal Fernando Filoni, began his homily on Sunday morning, June 10, during the Holy Mass celebrated in Baku attended by Archbishop Marek Solczynski, Apostolic Nuncio; Father Vladimir Sekete, SDB, Apostolic Prefect of Azerbaijan, priests, religious sister and laity. We unite our Eucharistic Celebration with the opening of the International Eucharistic Congress in Dublin, the Cardinal pointed out that "this tiny local Church, yet very much in the heart of John Paul II, so much so that, despite his declining health, a few years before his final journey to heaven on April 2, 2005, he came here in May 2002 to acknowledge the heroism of the local Catholics who remained faithful to their Baptismal commitments under the brunt of persecution, depriving them for 70 years of priests, thus silencing the proclamation of the Good News of salvation, demolishing Church buildings and dispossessing them not only of dignity, but most of all, of access to the Eucharist." The Prefect of the Congregation the Evangelization of Peoples noted that although the visit of John Paul II in Azerbaijan was not accompanied by the usual great crowds of people, as we have seen in his other trips, particularly in predominantly Catholic countries, the pope was nonetheless warmly received and embraced by small, yet an assembly of believers fully aware of being a Church, God’s people. Against the backdrop of the enormous geographical size of Azerbaijan, being the largest country in the Caucasus region, the local church has about 450 faithful, and in this respect, the Cardinal quoted the parable in the Gospel which speeks of the mustard seed (cf. Mt 13: 31-32). "You are the Church in the full meaning of the word" Cardinal Filoni said. "You are an assembly of believers, vivified by the Holy Spirit, illumined by word of Christ, nourished by the sacraments, most especially by the Eucharist, and called to bring the light of Christ Gospel to every creation and a sign of His abiding presence." The Cardinal then focused his attention on the exhortation made by John Paul II to be faithful to the mission entrusted to them, without becoming discouraged, as St. Paul urges, as " discouragement is an enemy of perseverance and perseverance is a condition for fidelity in Christ ". Finally, the Prefect of the Congregation the Evangelization of Peoples thanked the Apostolic Prefect, together with Salesian confreres, for the invitation made to praise the Lord, together with the community of Azerbaijan, "for the many blessings He has showered on this Local Church in the past few years, aware that from heaven the Blessed John Paul II is smiling at us, interceding for you because keeps you in his heart." After the Mass, Cardinal Filoni blessed the stone commemorating the 10th anniversary of Pope John Paul II’s visit, then inaugurated the Exhibition on John Paul II’s visit in Baku and the new Pastoral Center of the Apostolic Prefecture. (SL) (Agenzia Fides 11/6/2012)