Pope Francis on Wednesday congratulated Ilia II, the Catholicos Patriarch of Georgia’s Orthodox Church, on the double celebration of his 90th birthday and the 45th anniversary of his time at the helm of the religious organisation.
The head of the Catholic Church wished the Georgian Patriarch “good health and abundant spiritual gifts” in his message, which joined congratulations released throughout the day by officials in the country.
While your many years of service to the Lord have seen a wide variety of challenges and an extensive transformation of your country, the Church entrusted to your care has always grown and prospered spiritually”, the Pope told Ilia II in the letter.
The message also stressed the Pope’s “fraternal embrace of peace” with the head of the country’s Orthodox Church.
Ilia II was consecrated as the Bishop of Abkhazia - the now Russian-occupied north-western region of Georgia - and elevated to the rank of Metropolitan in 1969.
After the death of Patriarch David V, he was elected the new Catholicos Patriarch on December 25, 1977.
Between 1978-1983, he also served as Co-President of the World Council of Churches, which the Georgian Orthodox Church joined in 1962 but left in 1997.