Despite a state of emergency in Armenia shortening his visit, Cardinal Bertone has successfully completed his trip to Armenia and Azerbaijan. The major theme of the visit was a focus on inter-religious harmony.
Interestingly, the visit by the cardinal followed in the footsteps of Pope John Paul II, who visited the countries in 2001 and 2002 respectively.
In Armenia, Cardinal Bertone met with His Holiness Karekin II, Supreme Patriarch and Catholicos of All Armenians, and gave him a Letter from Benedict XVI in which the Pope expressed his hopes for peace in the country and for continuation along the path of ecumenism. The cardinal also met with representatives of the Catholic community of Armenia, which is a minority in the country.
On March 6, Cardinal Bertone began the second stage of his journey, traveling to Azerbaijan where, in the capital city of Baku, he presided over the opening of the church of the Immaculate Conception, which was shut down by the Soviets 70 years ago.
In his remarks at the opening ceremony, Cardinal Bertone said that the presence of the church is a sign "of true religious tolerance" in a land with a Muslim majority. "Civilization rests on a rock that is concrete-the serene coexistence of different religions," he added.
One of the most symbolic moments of the cardinal's visit to this former Soviet republic –which is 94.3 percent Muslim—was his visit to the mosque of Baku. Allashukur Pashazade, head of Muslims in the Caucasus, received the cardinal in his residence in the presence of religious leaders of the Russian Orthodox Church and the Jewish community.
After visiting the mosque, Cardinal Bertone participated in a prayer of welcome at the Russian Orthodox cathedral where he expressed the hope that, as soon as possible, "the visible unity of the Church may be expressed". He then went on to visit the synagogue of Baku.
Religious tolerance was also a theme for the Cardinal Secretary of State’s meeting with the head of Azerbaijan's Foreign Affair Ministry (FAM), Elmar Mamedyarov. After meeting with Mamedyarov, Cardinal Bertone announced that the Vatican would be opening a Nunciature in Baku. According to Interfax, he praised “the current religion traditions in Azerbaijan and the state policy in religion affairs” in his announcement about the new diplomatic ties.
The final event of the secretary of State's visit to Azerbaijan was his celebration of Mass on March 9 at the newly constructed Immaculate Conception church, where he addressed words of encouragement to the Catholic community of the country. The church has been built on land donated to John Paul II on his 2002 visit by President Heydar Aliyev, father of the current head of State.