Orthodox attend papal Mass in spite of threats from radicals

VATICAN CITY, NOV 9 (ZENIT).- John Paul II returns to the Vatican tonight, after his first visit to Georgia, which undoubtedly will mark a decisive step forward in the dialogue between Catholics and Orthodox.

Indeed, during his stay in this country of the Caucasus, the Pontiff and Orthodox Patriarch Ilja II, signed a joint appeal for peace in the world,with special emphasis on the conflicts in the Caucasus. Since its proclamation of independence in 1991, Georgia has been in a state of civil war, because of ethnic conflicts in the provinces of southern Osetia and Abjacia. Moreover, it neighbors with Chechenia, where Russian troops are engaged in a serious military offensive.

The Holy Father considered this meeting with the Georgian Orthodox Church as "a step toward a new fraternity and a more shared testimony, in the broad context of dialogue between the Catholic Church and the Orthodox."

In addition, as the Pope himself acknowledged, the meeting served to confirm the commitment of the two Christian churches to overcome the many difficulties that still exist in the ecumenical road.

The Pope's and Patriarch's embrace, including the three traditional kisses, are signs of hope that John Paul II's desire for a meeting of common prayer, with all the Orthodox Churches on the occasion of the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000, will be fulfilled.

House of the Poor

But the papal visit has also served to help promote the small Catholic community of the country (some 100,000 faithful in a country of 5.5 million inhabitants). This morning, the Holy Father blessed the "House of the Poor" in Tiflis, the Georgian capital. A few Missionaries of Charity - of the Congregation founded by Mother Teresa of Calcutta -, who will manage this work of assistance and human promotion of the Church, were present at the ceremony. The Sisters sang in Polish and one of them placed a floral wreath around the Pope's neck.

John Paul II celebrated Mass in the Sports Palace of the city, in the presence of 10,000 people. Georgian President Eduard Schevernadze, former Minister of Foreign Affairs during the time of Gorbachev's "Perestroika" was in the front row. The President, who was baptized in the Orthodox Church seven years ago, was also an enthusiastic supporter of Gorbachev's "Glasnost" policies at the end of the 80s.

Orthodox Attend Papal Mass

The setting was very simple, but the people were very enthusiastic. The papal chair was covered in yellow fabric. There was an altar and hundreds of little white and red lights, representing the rays of light coming from Christ's cross. The steps of the Tiflis Sports Palace were crowded with people. Some of the pilgrims had come from as far as Chechenia, Armenia and Azerbaijan.

"Georgia has always looked toward the West, and has made her contribution to Christian Europe," the Pope said. Among those present, were many Orthodox, seemingly ignoring the appeal made by certain sectors of the Georgian Orthodox clergy, not to participate in the meeting with the Holy Father.

Georgia: Beacon of Christianity and Tolerance

Following the disintegration of Communism, the time has arrived for "the evangelical values that Georgia has always cherished ... to shine with a new light in all parts of the planet where peace is reduced to an utopia," the Pope said.

In addition, John Paul II recognized that Georgia has always been an example of tolerance among the different religions. Very near to where the gathering took place, there are important Christian, Hebrew and Muslim places of worship.

By way of confirmation of this new fraternity, the faithful prayed in all the languages of the area: Armenian, Russian, Azerian, Georgian and English. At the end of the Mass, President Schevernadze spontaneously thanked the Holy Father for his visit. And the Pope announced that he was raising Giuseppe Pasotto to the dignity of Bishop. Fr. Pasotto has been the spiritual leader of Catholics in the Caucasus. The Pope expressed his wish to consecrate Fr. Pasotto himself on January 6, 2000.

In the afternoon, John Paul II visited President Schevernadze in his private residence. After meeting with representatives from the world of culture and science, the farewell ceremony took place, in the presence of the Georgian President, Orthodox Patriarch Ilja II and future Bishop Pasotto.

av Webmaster publisert 10.11.1999, sist endret 10.11.1999 - 20:58