* Pope on last leg of trip to Georgia and Azerbaijan
* Francis will visit Mosque before returning to Rome
* Vatican estimates about 700 Catholics in Azerbaijan
By Philip Pullella and Nailia Bagirova
BAKU, Oct 2 Pope Francis said a Mass on Sunday
for the miniscule Catholic community in Shi'ite Muslim
Azerbaijan, urging the "precious little flock" to keep the faith
and paying tribute to those persecuted during the Soviet era.
The oil and gas-rich nation of about 9 million people
bordering on Russia, Iran and Turkey, has only about 700
Catholics, according to Vatican figures.
Many of them are foreigners, including staff from embassies
and domestic workers and some in the oil and gas industries.
In fact, Sunday's Mass, which was said mostly in English,
had more of the feeling of a worship service in a multi-ethnic,
well-to-do American suburb than a liturgy on the Caspian sea.
"You are a little flock that is so precious in God's eyes,"
he told the congregation in the homily of the Mass in the modern
church, which opened in 2007 and was built on the site of one
demolished under Soviet rule in 1931.
"Courage. Go ahead without fear", Francis said, praising
them for being a close-knit and vibrant "community on the
Francis, who arrived in Baku from neighbouring Georgia and
returns to Rome on Sunday night, also paid tribute to Christians
who were persecuted by the Communists.
"FAITH IN ADVERSITY"
"Here the faith, after the years of persecution, has
accomplished wonders. I wish to recall the many courageous
Christians who trusted in the Lord and were faithful in the face
of adversity," he said.
He said he was sure "that when you look to the example of
those who have gone before you in faith, you will not let your
hearts become lukewarm."
The land for the modern church building was donated by the
late president Heydar Aliyev at the request of the late Pope
John Paul after the pontiff's visit to Baku in 2002.
Relations between the miniscule Catholic community and the
Muslims in Azerbaijan are broadly smooth.
Before returning to Rome, Francis was due to meet in the
afternoon with Heydar Aliyev son, Ilham Aliyev, who has ruled
since his father's death in 2003, and visit a mosque.
Last week Azeris voted in a referendum in favour of
extending the presidential term from five to seven years, a step
that critics say will hand unprecedented powers to Ilham Aliyev.
Aliyev, 54, can seek re-election indefinitely after a
maximum number of terms in office was scrapped via a similar
referendum seven years ago.
Rights advocates accuse his government of muzzling and
jailing opponents but the government says citizens enjoy full
freedom of speech and a lively opposition press.
The West has courted the country as an alternative to Russia
in supplying oil and gas.
(Additional reporting by Margarita Andtidze in Tbilisi; Editing
by Christian Lowe)