The religious leader of the Georgian Orthodox Church is preparing to baptize about 600 babies in a mass baptism this Sunday.
The occasion will be the 37th baby baptism ceremony since he began the occasion in 2008. In this time Patriarch Ilia II has become godfather to 19,136 children. After Sunday, he can add another 621 children to this list after they are baptized at the Holy Trinity Cathedral.
The baptism ceremonies began as a way to encourage people to have children and reduce the country’s diminishing birth rate.
In 2007, head of the Georgian Orthodox Church Patriarch Ilia II promised to personally baptize any baby born to Orthodox Christian parents who already had more than two children. At the time the country had one of the lowest birth rates in the world.
Since the Patriarch’s plan was established, birth rates in Georgia increased from 11.2 to 12.9 per 1,000 people, according to statistics from the Georgian National Statistics Department.
Georgian parents said Patriarch Ilia II was instrumental in their decision to have a third or fourth child.
Patriarch Ilia II has the highest rating (91%) as the most authoritative figure in Georgia, according to surveys from the Caucasus Research Resource Center (CRRC) and National Democratic Institute (NDI).