"I want to be a genuine friend to this land and its beloved people who do not forget the good they have received and whose unique hospitality is intimately united to a way of living that is full of true hope, even though there is no shortage of difficulties.”
These words were spoken by Pope Francis when he met the leader of the Georgian Orthodox Church, Catholicos-Patriarch Ilia II in Tbilisi yesterday on his first day of his Georgia visit.
Speaking with Ilia II, Pope Francis focused on the love of Christ as a base for building up the bonds of unity between the Catholic Church and the Georgian Orthodox Church.
The people of Georgia have witnessed the greatness of this love through the centuries – a love that has inspired the immortal beauty of Georgia’s cultural patrimony,” he said.
The Pope addressed Ilia II as his "dear brother” and stressed the ties that existed between the Georgian Church and the Church of Rome, were strong and enduring.
Let us allow the Lord Jesus to look upon us anew, let us once again experience the attraction of his call to leave everything that prevents us from proclaiming together his presence,” he told the Georgian church leader.
The Pope recalled Patriarch Ilia’s visit to Rome in 1980 - the first ever visit of a Georgian Patriarch to the Vatican. He also recalled the visit of Pope John Paul II to Georgia on the eve of the Jubilee Year of 2000.
Pope Francis concluded his remarks with an appeal to the "courageous heroes” of Georgia’s history, "who like St George, knew how to defeat evil.”
May their intercession bring relief to the many Christians who even today suffer persecution and slander, and may they strengthen in us the noble aspiration to be fraternally united in proclaiming the Gospel of peace,” he said.
The Georgian Catholicos-Patriarch expressed his happiness about the Pope’s visit.
Everyone know that the Church of Rome was built on the foundation of St Peter, and the Georgian Church was founded on the preaching of St Andrew; Peter and Andrew were brothers and we also have always had and must have special relations,” Ilia II said.
In his address he stressed the hard situation of Georgia's Internally Displaced People who had to leave the Georgian regions of Abkhazia and Tskhivali after these lands were occupied by Russia.
"What has happened in our integral parts – the Tskhinvali region and Abkhazia – is the result of separatist forces being very active in general,” he said.
This poses a great threat not only to small countries but any state. Developed countries and international organisations should take efficient steps to prevent the world from finding itself in chaos.”
According to Georgia’s state statistics office, in the 2014 Population Census 19,195 people described themselves as Catholics – 0.5 percent of Georgia’s population of 3.7 million.
Of about 200,000 Catholics in Georgia, 15,024 lived in Georgia’s southern Samtskhe-Javakheti region, 1,662 in Tbilisi and 1,493 in eastern Kvemo Kartli region.