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Pope's Georgia visit can help promote inter-Church relations

Patriarch Ilia welcomes Pope Francis to Georgia at the start of his two day pastoral visit on September 30th and October 1st 2016 - EPA

Patriarch Ilia welcomes Pope Francis to Georgia at the start of his two day pastoral visit on September 30th and October 1st 2016 - EPA

07/10/2016 16:27

(Vatican Radio) Georgia’s ambassador to the Holy See says she believes the Pope’s recent visit to her country can help promote better relations with other Christian Churches.

Ambassador Tamara Grdzelidze, an Orthodox theologian and former official at the World Council of Churches,  told Vatican Radio she was saddened by some of the negative media coverage of the two day papal visit.

Pope Francis spent September 30th and October 1st visiting the capital Tbilisi and the nearby ancient city of Mtskheta, where he and Georgia’s Orthodox Patriarch Ilia II prayed together in the 11th century Svetitskhoveli Cathedral.

Speaking on her return to Rome with Philippa Hitchen, the ambassador highlighted some of the most positive points of the trip.....

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Firstly, Ambassador Grdzelidze mentions the gestures and speeches of the patriarch and the pope in the Patriarchal cathedral which she says “spoke this language of fraternal love” as they described themselves as the successors of St Peter and St Andrew.

She also points to the fact that the elderly Patriarch, who is “not in good physical form”,  came to the airport to greet the Pope. She says she was particularly struck by the sight of the two leaders entering the cathedral “hand in hand” before stopping to pray in silence at the holy place where the seamless tunic of Christ is buried with St Sidonia.

Breakthrough visit

For the ambassador and for many in the church of Georgia, she says, “this is a breakthrough”. She says lots of people, including young priests, have been in touch with her to say “they think this is the beginning of the end of this darkness which you saw in the group that protested against the visit”. She says the protesters were expected to demonstrate and it was a positive sign that “they were not pushed back by the government”.

Ambassador Grdzelidze also mentions the low turnout at the papal Mass on Saturday, noting that the Georgian government “did not organize attendance at the Mass” so those who attended did so freely, including many Orthodox. She says she regrets that the Orthodox clergy and bishops did not come, as originally expected,  but she insists “many [Orthodox] did come and they enjoyed it”.

Building on positive exchanges

The ambassador says she is very eager to pursue the positive impact of the papal visit and she has already had conversations with several bishops and many young theologians. She says that other Orthodox faithful worldwide are “very interested to give us their back up in this” to build on the important exchanges that the Pope had with Patriarch Ilia.

At state level too, she says, “they were very happy that the Pope recognized us as a young democracy” so she is “upset” by the negative reporting in the Western press.

Better bilateral relations

Ambassador Grdzelidze says that a lasting fruit of the visit would be for the Georgian Church to start “with the help of others outside, working against this strange idea of non-recognition of Baptism”. Secondly, she says, the “personal encounter between Patriarch Ilia and Pope Francis will help the Georgians to move forward into normal bilateral Church relations”. 

07/10/2016 16:27