Yesterday, John Paul II started his visit to Azerbaijan. This is a very notable event, at least because Azerbaijan is a Muslim country, while the Catholic community is not numerous in Azerbaijan; it does not even have its own church. Therefore, to call this visit a religious visit would be too much. However, this is what the vatican calls it. However, this is not the question. The visit’s political component is much more important. Haidar Aliev certainly will try to enlist the support of the Vatican in the settlement of the issue of Nagorny Karabakh. If the Azerbaijanian president manages to accomplish this, he will have the powerful support of the Vatican. It is very probable that Aliev’s attempt will be a success. At least, the pope intends to meet with refugees from Nagorny Karabakh. However, some circumstances could meddle in the case, so to say, of a private character. John Paul II is old and ill. Many people already openly speak about his resignation. Some observers even state that today’s 96th foreign visit could be the last one. During the visit to Azerbaijan (and afterwards to Bulgaria), the pontiff had to travel a distance of 6,500 km and to make five changes of aircraft to helicopter and to drive 140 km by a car. Will he stand such a test? One more detail should be noticed: for the first time, John Paul II has to go up the aircraft with a special lifting device. Nevertheless, the pontiff does not refuse such travels. Azerbaijan will be added to the list of the former USSR states the pope has already visited (Ukraine, Kazakhstan, Georgia). Baku certainly hopes for the pope’s visit to enhance the prestige of the country. However, the future will show whether these hopes are real.
Vasily Bubnov PRAVDA.Ru
Translated by Vera Solovieva
Read the original in Russian: http://www.pravda.ru/main/2002/05/22/41568.html