Pope Francis will meet with interfaith leaders on a visit to Georgia and Azerbaijan, two Caucasus region nations that were part of the former Soviet Union.
The pontiff’s trip to the region begins Sept.30, according to the Vatican.
In the majority Muslim country of Azerbaijan, which lies in the Transcaucasian region, located at the crossroads of Southwest Asia and Southeastern Europe, Pope Francis will celebrate mass with the nation’s small Catholic community and meet with the region’s chief Muslim imam, Allahshukur Pashazade, as well as with the Orthodox Christian bishop of Baku and the head of the country’s Jewish community.
“We will be happy to welcome the pope in Baku,”
said Moisei Bekker, representative of Baku’s Georgian-Jewish community, the Catholic Herald reported.
“We Jews are satisfied with how we live here. We are protected. In Azerbaijan, anti-Semitism did not and does not exist.”
Approximately half of Azerbaijan’s Jews live in Baku.
Jewish presence in Azerbaijan can be dated from as far back as 2,500 years ago,before the 5th century, when a group of Persian Jews, also referred to as the Caucasian Mountain Jews, immigrated to Azerbaijan.
The Mountain Jews are said to be descendants of the Lost Tribes that left Israel after the destruction of the First Holy Temple in 587 BCE.
Some Ashkenazim, Jews of Eastern European descent, also live in the country. A group of Ashkenazim came to Azerbaijan from Russia in the 19th century during a Czarist attempt to infuse Russian culture into the region. Others came in during World War II to escape Nazi persecution.
Today, about 30,000 Jews live in Azerbaijan, comprising a mere 0.07 percent of the country’s population.