February 23, 2016

Inauguration of the Saints Marcellinus and Peter catacombs in Vatican

On February 23, 2016, inauguration of the Saints Marcellinus and Peter catacombs, restored at the initiative of the Heydar Aliyev Foundation, took place. 


Azerbaijan’s First Lady, President of the Heydar Aliyev Foundation Mehriban Aliyeva addressed the ceremony: 


- Dear attendees of the ceremony. First of all, I would like to welcome all of you. Thank you for being with us today at this ceremony.  


I would like to thank you for such a nice presentation of the project. It was a comprehensive and interesting presentation. Thank you for the words you said about the Heydar Aliyev Foundation and my activity. Very extensive relations relying on brotherhood, friendship and cooperation have been built between Azerbaijan and the Holy See. The cooperation existing recent years between the Heydar Aliyev Foundation and Vatican’s Culture Ministry in the humanitarian field is part of our general cooperation. I would like to specially thank Cardinal Ravasi for his support to building this cooperation. I will not list again all the events that took place recent years, however, I would like to note that Cardinal Ravasi has had his special role in strengthening this cooperation. It was Cardinal Ravasi who suggested the issue of restoring the Saints Marcellinus and Peter catacombs, and we accomplished this project together. In 2014, I had occasion to see these catacombs, and they have had unforgettable impression on me. I made myself familiar with the restoration works being carried out there and the state-of-the-art technology being used in the restoration works, and saw very delicate handworks of people working there. Taking this opportunity, I would like to express my profound thanks to every person who has contributed to the restoration of the catacombs, especially professor Biskonti. 

Dear friends, for centuries Azerbaijan has been a place where different cultures and civilizations met and had intercourse with. This geographical location has had its impact on the cultural diversity of our country, located between Asia and Europe. For centuries, representatives of different religions, cultures and ethnic groups have lived on this land in an environment of peace, brotherhood and mutual respect. Formed for millennia, this environment has been preserved in the Azerbaijani society. 


Today, Azerbaijan is a multinational, multiconfessional country, and the ideas of tolerance are still very strong in the society. No conflict has ever occurred in our country on the religious basis, and will not. The policy of the state of Azerbaijan has ensured that religious relations be built on sound grounds. We hold all religious events and celebrate holidays. Our religious figures have always demonstrated unity. The climate of tolerance dominating in the society is a lifestyle of the people of Azerbaijan. 


Unfortunately, recently interreligious relations have been experiencing hard times. We have seen increasing tendencies of islamophobia, xenophobia and anti-Semitism. Bloody clashes on the religious ground and conflicts occur. Thousands of innocent people have died, millions of people left their homelands and are forced to live lives of a refugee and IDP. At the same time, borders are closed, anti-immigrant trends grow. We all are concerned of these cases, and today, Azerbaijan’s message to the whole world is that multiculturalism is possible. As is observed in Azerbaijan, people of different religions and nations, representatives of different cultures can coexist in an environment of peace and brotherhood. Azerbaijan is part of the Muslim world. At the same time, strong ties connect us with Europe. We have built cooperation in the political, economic, energy and humanitarian fields. Azerbaijan is one of the rare countries enjoying the memberships of both the Islamic Cooperation Organization and the European Council. This year has been announced the “Year of Multiculturalism” in our country, and the 7th Global Forum of UN’s Alliance of Civilizations will be held in April in Baku.


In 2015, the first European Games took place in the Azerbaijani capital with great success. Over 6 thousand sportsmen representing 50 countries of Europe participated in these Games. In 2017, Baku will host the 4th Islamic Solidarity Games. This testifies that we approach both the Western and Eastern values from the same position, without showing any discrimination. 


Dear guests, I’m very glad we have accomplished this project and are starting a new one, which means our cooperation continues. In my opinion, such relations are the most efficient and benevolent form of interreligious relations. Today I’m proud that the state of Azerbaijan has made its contribution to the restoration of the Saints Marcellinus and Peter catacombs, with their special place among the Christian monuments, by their history and cultural value. I would like to thank once more those who have made their contribution to these works. I want to thank Cardinal Ravasi for this cooperation. I am looking forward to our future cooperation with much hope. Thank you very much.  

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