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Tajikistan’s president received at Vatican for 1st time

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I.Media - published on 04/30/24

Tajikistan, a Muslim-majority country, first established diplomatic relations with the Holy See in 1996, principally to have a point of contact with the West.

Visiting Rome for the first time since coming to power more than 30 years ago, Tajikistan’s President Emomali Rahmon was received at the Vatican on April 26, 2024. 

The Tajik leader, who despite his longevity in power had met neither John Paul II nor Benedict XVI during their respective pontificates, spoke with Pope Francis for 25 minutes in the Vatican’s Apostolic Palace.

He presented him with a sculpture from the time of the Sassanid Empire, which covered a vast territory from Central Asia to present-day Iran from the 3rd to 7th centuries AD.

Pope Francis presented him with volumes of his pontifical documents and a sculpture titled Fragile flower, symbolizing peace. 

The Tajik president then visited the offices of the Secretariat of State, where he met Cardinal Pietro Parolin and Archbishop Paul Richard Gallagher, Secretary for Relations with States.  Without mentioning specific situations, the press release states that “special attention was paid to the importance of dialogue and mutual understanding between peoples and cultures, for the promotion of peace and stability in the world,” as well as to the political and social situation in the country.

Both parties emphasized the good relations between the Holy See and Tajikistan, a country that has never received a papal visit.

The Tajik President’s press office reports that President Rahmon stressed the importance of tolerance between the different religions that cohabit this territory. “The Tajik people, who have historically made a significant contribution to civilization with the development of science and literature, welcome any interreligious and inter-civilizational dialogue,” said the Tajik leader.

A landlocked country seeking to open up

Tajikistan, a Central Asian country with a population of over nine million, gained independence on September 9, 1991, against the backdrop of the collapse of the USSR. Like many countries in the region, although it has only a tiny Catholic minority, it established diplomatic relations with the Holy See in 1996, not least to provide a point of contact with the West. 

In religious terms, Tajikistan is 95% Muslim (almost all Sunni). The Catholic presence is limited to a Sui Iuris mission led since 2013 by an Argentinian religious from the Institute of the Incarnate Word, Fr. Pedro Ramiro López, with four priests and 14 nuns. The Pontifical Yearbook lists only 130 Catholics on site.

This little-known country was marked by civil war between 1992 and 1997. The September 11, 2001, attacks in the United States and the subsequent Western offensive in Afghanistan made it a strategic country in the fight against al-Qaeda.

Under the Taliban regime, Tajikistan was one of the main supporters of the Northern Alliance (who opposed the Taliban). The group’s charismatic leader, Commander Massoud, was of Tajik ethnicity, like 30% of Afghanistan’s inhabitants.

The Tajik capital, Dushanbe, was home to a French military base from 2002 to 2014. Currently, the country is home to Indian and Russian bases, to combat Islamist movements and drug trafficking.

President Emomali Rahmon, 72, a former member of the Red Army, has ruled the country with an iron fist since 1992. Little known in Europe, this leader is making a first-ever visit to Italy this week. This has also enabled him to meet with the country’s leaders and visit the headquarters of the FAO, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization.

Tags:
DiplomacyRomeVatican
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