Catholic World News
Feb 26 2005
Cardinal Sodano, substituting for Pope, meets Azeri leader
Vatican, Feb. 26 (CWNews.com) – Cardinal Angelo Sodano (bio – news)
met with visiting President Ilham Aliev of Azerbaidjan on Saturday,
substituting for Pope John Paul II (bio – news).
With Pope John Paul remaining in Gemelli Hospital, the Vatican
Secretary of State welcomed Aliev to the Vatican. An official Vatican
announcement after the visit reported that the visiting Azeri leader
had sent his best wishes to the Pope, and assured him that the people
of the former Soviet republic were praying for his recovery.
As Secretary of State, Cardinal Sodano ordinarily meets privately
with visiting government leaders after they have been received by the
Pope. His discussions with Aliev reportedly centered on questions of
religious freedom in Azerbaidjan and the border conflict between that
country and neighboring Armenia over the region of Nagorni-Karabakh.
Pope John Paul II visited Azerbaidjan in May 2002, as the country
celebrated the 10th anniversary of its independence. An
overwhelmingly Muslim country, Azerbaidjan has a tiny Catholic
community– composed primarily of people of Polish or Armenian ethnic
origin– that survived decades of persecution. The underground
Catholic community returned to public life in 1997 when the new
regime recognized freedom of religion.