GEORGIA – Highlights of Pope’s visit
Pope Francis arrived shortly after 3 p.m. local time in Tbilisi, capital of Georgia, after a four-hour flight for the first stage of his Sept. 30-Oct. 2 visit to the Caucasus. The visit theme is “Pax vobis” and the trip focussed on peace, ecumenism, and interreligious dialogue.
At the airport, Francis was welcomed by the president of the Republic Giorgi Margvelashvili and his wife, accompanied by the Catholicos-Patriarch of All Georgia, His Holiness and Beatitude Ilia II, state authorities and representatives of civil society. Two children in traditional costume offered Francis a basket of grapes.
The capital of Georgia has the highest concentration of Catholics, along with the southern area where entirely Catholic villages exist. The Catholics of the country are predominantly of Latin and Armenian rite, with a small community of Assyrian Chaldean rite as well as a group of immigrants, predominantly American, European and Indian.
After a brief discussion with the President and Patriarch in a small room at the airport, the Holy Father was driven to the presidential palace in Tbilisi. In the palace courtyard, Francis gave his first speech in Georgia to the country’s political and religious leaders, the Civil Society, members of the diplomatic corps and representatives from the world of culture.
Pope Francis’ ended his first day by meeting with the Assyrian-Chaldean Community at the Catholic Chaldean Church of St. Simon the Tanner. He was welcomed by the Patriarch of Babylon of the Chaldeans, Raphael Louis Sako, and the parish priest Father Benny Beth Yadegar. Francis then proceeded in procession to the Chapel of the Blessed Sacrament among the faithful of the Assyrian-Chaldean diaspora. After a song and a prayer in Aramaic, the Pope recited a Prayer for Peace.
On Saturday morning the Pope celebrated Holy Mass at M. Meskhi Stadium. Speaking on the feast of St. Therese of the Child Jesus, Francis talked about the consolation the Church wishes to give us, and how we can welcome it into our lives by embracing “our child side.”
“To receive God’s love we need this littleness of heart: only little ones can be held in their mothers’ arms,” the Pope said during his homily.
“Here in Georgia there are a great number of grandmothers and mothers who unceasingly defend and pass on the faith,” he said, adding that they “bring the fresh water of God’s consolation to countless situations of barrenness and conflict.” Francis later met priests, men and women religious who had gathered in the church of the Assumption.
In the afternoon Pope Francis was treated to a special show by young people, including several disabled youth in wheelchairs, who performed traditional dances for him, many wearing traditional Georgian dress. The performance took place outside a building of the Assistance Center of the Camillian Order in Tbilisi. Francis stopped to greet and bless many of them individually on his way in.
Around 700 people, including the sick, disabled, volunteers and workers of the various Catholic charity organizations in Georgia were present at the meeting. Francis offered them his encouragement: “You are the beloved of Jesus, who wished to identify himself with all who suffer, he himself having suffered in his passion,” he said, and thanked those who assist the sick and disabled saying “through your care, you express in an eloquent way love of neighbor which is the hallmark of Christ’s disciples.” He urged Christians of every confession “to act without personal interests, following only the prompting of the Holy Spirit.”
Pope Francis concluded his trip to Georgia with a visit this evening to the Svietyskhoveli Patriarchal Cathedral in Mskheta, the ancient capital of Georgia which is still considered the spiritual center of the country.
Francis thanked God “for the opportunity to spend prayerful time in this holy temple. I wish to express my heartfelt gratitude for the welcome I have received, for your moving witness of faith, for the goodness of the Georgian people.”. He concluded by saying “May fraternity and cooperation increase at every level! And may prayer and love make us ever more receptive to the Lord’s ardent desire, so that everyone who believes in Him, through the preaching of the Apostles, will ‘be one’.”