Orthodox Christians Shun Pope Francis in Georgia

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Catholics, meanwhile, constitute only one percent of Georgia’s population, while members of the Armenian Apostolic Church (which is Oriental Orthodox) are three percent, and Muslims are more than 10 percent.
Georgia’s Orthodox Church, under Patriarch Ilia II, has become a bastion of national identity since independence, but it also has strong ties to the Patriarchate of Moscow.

It was a different tone compared to the chill that characterized St. John Paul II’s 1999 visit.

A special event is planned Friday in the Chaldean Catholic church in Tbilisi, just days after Francis warned those responsible for the Aleppo siege “will be held accountable before God”.

A small group of rightwing members have voiced protest at the pope’s visit, carrying signs that read: “Vatican is a spiritual aggressor” and “pope, arch-heretic, you are not welcome in Orthodox Georgia”.

He still spoke about the “two countries”, referring to the Vatican and Georgia- the pope is, after all, a head of state-, but on Friday the patriarch welcomed Francis as my “dear brother” and toasted him saying: “May the Lord bless the Catholic Church of Rome”.

Commentators said it was a veiled reference to two breakaway regions over which Russian Federation has effective control.

Pope Francis in Tbilisi, Georgia.

While in Armenia in June, Francis called for reconciliation and for all sides to “resist being caught up in the illusory power of vengeance”. The door to receive this is our heart – which we can keep open through daily reading of the Gospel, silent prayers in adoration, confession and receiving the Eucharist. “The pope is not only spiritual leader for Catholics but also the person who calls and urges for peace around the world”.

Pope Francis marked the beginning of his second day Georgia by presiding over Mass in Mikheil Meskhi Stadium in the nation’s capital city of Tbilisi, Vatican Radio reports.

The papal visit has triggered controversy, with some Georgian priests condemning the visit as an attempt to turn their flock into Catholics.

Francis went on to back Georgia’s demand that residents who fled during a brief 2008 war with Russian Federation be allowed to return home.

Before the trip started, Georgia’s ambassador to the Vatican, Tamara Grdzelidze, told Reuters in an interview that while she did not expect the pope to use the word “occupation”, she had hoped that he would defend the country’s “territorial integrity”. A few dozen hard-line Orthodox faithful opposed to Francis’ visit demonstrated outside the airport and also outside the Chaldean church where Francis held a peace prayer for the people of Syria and Iraq.

Francis emphasized the need to allow for everyone to peacefully coexist in their homeland, “or freely to return to that land, if for some reason they have been forced to leave it”.

But Church officials said the decision had been taken by mutual agreement.

According to Fr. Chelidze, Pope Francis’ visit will mostly concern meeting with the local Catholic Church, to which Pope Francis will provide guidance concerning pastoral care and commitment to charity.

Vatican officials and people involved in Catholic-Orthodox relations had hoped that Georgian Orthodox Ilia II would send an official delegation to the Mass despite rules preventing the church’s clergy from attending a non-Orthodox liturgy.