A difficult journey to two countries where Catholics are a small minority. In Tbilisi, for the first time a delegation from the "intransigent" Georgian Orthodox Church will participate in a Papal liturgy. In Baku the meeting with the Sheikh of Caucasus Muslims.
Vatican City (AsiaNews) - Pope Francis 16th journey outside of Italy from September 30 to October 2 to two countries, Georgia and Azerbaijan, where Catholics are a small minority, will be a difficult one. In Georgia, in fact, Catholics are just 112 thousand out of a population of over 3.5 million and in Azerbaijan they are just 570, or 0.01 per cent of the nearly 10 million inhabitants.
Beyond the numbers, they are two very different realities. Georgia is the country where over 80 percent of the inhabitants are Christians, but the Orthodox Church is particularly “intransigent” on its principles. This is demonstrated by its decision not to participate in the Pan-Orthodox Council that was held in Crete in June this year and the fact that between the Patriarch Ilia II and the Pope there will be no joint prayer.
The patriarch, however, will be at Tbilisi airport. This was announced by the director of the Vatican press office, Greg Burke, who described the visit today. "Of course - he said – it is a journey of peace. The Pope carries a message of reconciliation for the whole region. It will be the first time that an Orthodox delegation will participate in the Mass presided by the Holy Father ".In short, things will go a bit' better the visit by John Paul II in November 1999, when a penance was imposed on those who had attended the celebrations and meetings with the Pope.
Instead Azerbaijan is a Muslim country and Francis, as John Paul II did before him, is going there for reasons of inter-religious relations, and political and diplomatic reasons, due to the decades-long conflict with Armenia over Nagorno-Karabakh.
The Pope will leave Friday morning and will arrive in Tbilisi at 15 (local time). After the welcoming ceremony and the traditional courtesy visit to President Giorgi Margvelashvili and with the Georgian authorities, Francis will travel to the palace to meet with Catholicos Patriarch Elijah II.
The last appointment of the day, a visit to the Chaldean Catholic church of St. Simon Bar Sabbae, where he will attend the Chaldean Synod, namely the episcopate of the Eastern Church in communion with Rome widespread mainly in Iraq and the Middle East. In the church of St. Simon Bar Sabbae Pope Francis will preside at a prayer service to express closeness to the Syrian and Iraqi peoples.
The next day, Saturday, October 1, Francis will celebrate Mass in M. Meskhi stadium. Subsequently, in the church of the Assumption, he will meet priests, religious and seminarians and in the Camillians Service Center he will meet with those assisted by the Church's charitable works as well as the operators. The last appointment of the day, a visit to the Patriarchal Cathedral of Svetitskhoveli in Mtskheta.
On Sunday, October 2, the Pope will leave Georgia for Azerbaijan. The arrival in Baku is scheduled at 9:30 am, local time. Francis will travel to the church of the Salesian Center in Baku, where he will celebrate Mass.
After lunch, in the Presidential Palace Ganjlik there will be the official ceremony of welcome and the visit to the President of the Republic Ilham Aliyev. The Pope will then visit the war of independence memorial ' and local authorities.
At 17.45, he is expected to hold a private meeting with the Sheikh of Caucasus Muslims in the mosque "Heydar Aliyev", followed by an interfaith meeting with representatives of the communities present in the country. It will be the last event of the trip. The Pope’s departure is scheduled for 19:15, and the arrival in Rome for 22.00.