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Pope Francis pays visit to Georgia

By Gvantsa Gabekhadze
Monday, October 3
Pope Francis has paid his first historic visit to Georgia after Pope John Paul II visited Tbilisi in 1999.

The Pope arrived at Tbilisi International Airport in the afternoon of September 30 and was greeted by Catholics Patriarch of Georgia Ilia II, the President and First Lady, the Parliament Speaker, Tbilisi's Mayor and many other state officials.

Pope Francis arrived in Georgia with a 150-person delegation, with 70 journalists among them.

About 350 media outlets were accredited to broadcast the visit from Georgia before the Pope left for Baku, Azerbaijan, early on October 2.

The Pope firstly visited the Presidential Palace, where he and President Giorgi Margvelashvili addressed the public after a face-to-face meeting and an exchange of gifts ceremony.

In his speech, the Pope highlighted Georgia’s long history and Christian traditions and the geographic location that “created a bridge between Europe and Asia.”

“I thank God who enabled me to visit this blessed country,” Pope said.

“Your centuries-old history, with your culture, language, tradition and values will grant you a worthy place in European civilization,” Pope said.

“Georgia is a natural bridge between Europe and Asia which connect people and makes relations easier,” the he added.

Pope Francis stressed that during its 25-year history of independence, Georgia has provided all necessary efforts to positively transform itself in many directions.

The Pope highlighted the importance of unity between all representatives of the Georgian public for the state to advance, and stressed that the ensuring of peace played a crucial role in a country's development.

In his address, Margvelashvili thanked Pope Francis for coming to Georgia and Georgia’s Catholics Patriarch, Ilia II, who supported and blessed the historic visit.

Margvelashvili stressed that the Vatican has always supported Georgia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.

The President highlighted that next year, Georgia and the Vatican will celebrate the 25th anniversary of diplomatic relations, but historical relations took root from the 12th century, when people from the Vatican first visited Georgia.

The President stressed that the first Georgian printed books were published in Rome in 1629 by Catholic missionaries, namely an Georgian-Italian dictionary and the Georgian alphabet.

Also in the 17th century, a Georgian grammar book was published through the support of Catholic missionaries.

Margvelashvili also said that Georgians participated in the Crusades, and Crusaders also fought for Georgia’s freedom on Georgian soil.

“Georgia is more than a part of Europe, Georgia is one of the creators of Europe,” the President said, and stressed Georgians still fought shoulder-to-shoulder with other nations to protect international peace and security.

Highlighting Georgia’s role in the current, civilized world, the President moved to Georgia’s occupation by Russian troops.

“Twenty percent of our territory is occupied, and about fifteen percent of our people are internally displaced. The people were forced from their houses solely because they were ethnic Georgians. "

“About 40 kilometers from here we are standing now, barbed-wire fences are constructed, which deprive relatives, neighbors, siblings from meeting each other,” the President said.

“But, despite all the developments we are not searching for confrontation to settle our conflicts,” the President added.

Margvelashvili stressed that after two days, the world will celebrate the destruction of the Berlin wall, after which Germany was united.

“That day is an impressive example for us, as the wall was destroyed through the efforts of the international community and the country was united.

“I believe that with the involvement of the international community, based on our non-recognition policy and refusing aggression, our country will be de-occupied and peace will be ensured in the region,” the President stated.

After the meeting with the President, the Pope arrived at the Patriarchate and conversed with Georgia’s Catholics Patriarch.

The Pope addressed Ilia II as "Dear Brother”.

The Pope recalled Patriarch Ilia’s visit to Rome in 1980. 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”.

Meanwhile, Ilia II expressed his gladness over the Pope’s visit.

In his address, he stressed the hard situation of the Georgian internally displaced people who were forced from Georgia's 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 and aggressive,” he said.

"This poses a great threat not only to small countries but any state. Developed countries and international organisations should take efficient measures to prevent the world from finding itself in chaos,” the Patriarch said.

On the second day of the trip, the Pope delivered a liturgy at Mikheil Meskhi stadium in Tbilisi.

In his homily, the Pope spoke about the importance of women, drawing from the writings of St Therese of the Child Jesus, whose feast was October 1.

He also spoke of the “urgent mission” to bring and receive God’s consolation.

The same day, he also met charity workers in the Georgian capital Tbilisi and encouraged them in their work, visited Georgia’s historic town of Mtskheta and the 11th century Svetitskhoveli cathedral.