Focus 2008

Baku - SLK01-03-2008

Project: Salesian mission in Azerbaijan
Date: September 2000
Place: Baku
Province: SLK

Brief recent history of the Church in Azerbaijan

Christianity in the region goes back to the first centuries after Christ. According to the Russioan Orthodox Church, the Apostle Bartholomew preached the Gospel in Azerbaijan and died a martyr in Baku. By 313 the Albanian King Urnayir had declared Christianity the State Religion. There were many vicissitudes and changes over the centuries, including the arrival of the Islamic faith in the region.

A Catholic parish was set up in Baku at the beginning of the 20th Century. The Bolshevik Revolution in nearby Russia brought the destruction of that had been set up. The first Parish Priest, Fr Stephan Demurov, who opened the Parish in 1904, was arrested and shot on 24th February 1938.

In 1992, after declaration of Independence, there were attempts to revive the Catholic Parish.  But it was not until 1997 that Fr Eji Pilus, from Poland, arrived as Parish Priest for the small Catholic community, many from outside of Azerbaijan.  After many struggles with the Regime, the Parish was registered as a Catholic community in 1999.

The arrival of the Salesians

In October 2000, the Holy See established a missio sui juris, entrusted to the Salesians from Slovakia. Fr Joseph Pravda, together with Brother Marian Kalish, arrived in Baku on 15th September 2000. Together with Fr Pilus they sought out the remaining catholics in Baku. Prior to this Catholics had attended the Orthodox Church as their only option, and had received no religious education. Many were of Polish origin.  They knew they were Christian, even Catholic, but knew nothing of the Faith.
On 14th January 2001 a new chapel was opened for the 30 or so Azerbaijani Catholics and some 50 foreign workers, also Catholics.

The pastoral ministry develops

In the summer of 2001, the Salesians organised the first summer camps for children, one for children of parishioners, and a second for children with families in contact with the Parish.  In May of that year Pope John Paul II visited Baku.  He met with the President of the Republic and representatives of culture and science.  At the one church, the Salesian church, he met local religious leaders, including Jewish and Orthodox representatives. 15,000 people attended the Mass which he celebrated there.  Only 500 of these were Catholics.  The President gave land by way of restitution for the Stalinist era.

Growth of the community

The Pope's visit brought growth the small community. In 2003 Fr Pravda was replaced by Fr Yan Chapla and the Salesian community grew to four members.  The building of a new church began. It was a project based on a design by an Italian architect and took two years to complete. Each summer, the Salesians organised more camps and many more children took part.  The Parish also opened a dining hall for elderly people, developed an 'Adoption at Distance' programme to support families with social problems, and in 2004 opened a 'Maryam' centre with an after-school tutoring program for children, where up to 20 teachers work and visit some 250 local children.

Further developments

Since 2005, the Missionary of Charity Sisters came to Baku, five of them in all.  The President of the Republic provided accommodation for them.  Their house serves as a shelter for homeless persons.  In 2007 the new Church of the Immaculate Conception was blessed an opened.  By 2007 the Salesian community had grown to seven members.

Address: Roman Catholic Church
Teimur Aliyev Str. 69b/1
AZ 1069 Baku, Azerbaijan
Tel: 994.12.562.22.55
Fax: 994.12.436.09.43