Georgia Pope: Tbilisi stadium largely empty for papal Mass

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02 October, 2016

It was Mirian who declared Christianity the official religion of Georgia in 327 and Nino continued her missionary activities among Georgians until her death.

The pope's visit to Azerbaijan will end with a series of interreligious meetings, including one with the sheikh of Muslims in the Caucasus at the Heydar Aliyev mosque.

Francis received an unexpectedly warm welcome from the Orthodox leader upon his arrival Friday in Tbilisi.

"Dear brothers and sisters, let us take up this call: to not bury ourselves in what is going wrong around us or be saddened by the lack of harmony between us".

The Georgian Orthodox church is ultraconservative and nationalistic and tied to the Moscow Patriarchate, which has strained, though improving, relations with the Holy See.

In his sermon, the head of the Roman Catholic Church spoke about the importance of women in Georgia, quoting Mother Teresa, who said that more women show more love of God than men do.

Pope Francis stressed children, who had no problem in understanding God, had much to teach us: they tell us that he accomplishes great things in those who put up no resistance to him, who are simple and honest, without duplicity. "God is not known through grand ideas and extensive study, but rather through the littleness of a humble and trusting heart".

In a country where Catholics comprise a tiny minority of the population, Pope Francis on Saturday urged the local faith community to remember that God has accomplished "great wonders" through small things and told them to favor "authentic Gospel simplicity" over evangelical efficiency.

A September 28 statement from the Orthodox patriarchate said they were not going to participate because of "existing dogmatic differences" between the Orthodox and Catholic communities.

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Francis had been scheduled to personally greet the delegation at the end of the Mass.

The law of the Georgian Church prohibits them to pray with Catholics, since the two churches aren't in Eucharistic communion.

The patriarchate had issued a statement September 28 saying that Orthodox attendance at a Catholic liturgy was not possible "as long as dogmatic differences exist". Instead, Francis thanked "those Orthodox faithful" who were present.

Barely 3,000 people braved brilliant sunshine Saturday on a handsome autumn day to attend a Mass held in the former Soviet republic's 27,000-capacity sports arena in a snub that highlights ongoing divisions between the Catholic and Georgian Orthodox churches.

The 11th-century Svetitskhoveli cathedral, the second largest building in Georgia, is on the UNESCO world heritage list- one of three Mtskheta monuments on it-.

The pontiff on Friday called for peaceful "coexistence" in the conflict-ridden ex-Soviet region at the start of the three-day tour that will also take him to Azerbaijan just months after he visited its arch-foe Armenia.

Pope Francis arrives for a meeting with the Assyro-Chaldean community in the Chaldean catholic church of St. Simon Bar Sabbae in Tbilisi, Georgia, Friday, Sept. 30, 2016.

It's said to have housed Christ's tunic, reason why the building is also known as the "burial site of Christ's mantle".


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