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papa ilia

As a pilgrim and a friend, I have come to this blessed land as the Jubilee Year of Mercy for Catholics approaches its conclusion. Saint John Paul II also visited here, the first among the Successors of Peter to do so in a moment of great importance on the threshold of the Jubilee of 2000: he came to reinforce the “deep and strong bonds” with the See of Rome. With these words, the Pope greeted Ilia II, Catholicos and Patriarch of All Georgia, primate of the autocephalous Georgian Orthodox Apostolic Church, during the meeting in the Patriarchate in Tbilisi. “Now, Divine Providence allows us to meet again and, faced with a world thirsting for mercy, unity and peace, asks us to ardently renew our commitment to the bonds which exist between us, of which our kiss of peace and our fraternal embrace are already an eloquent sign.”

By means of peace and forgiveness – highlighted the Holy Father – we are called to overcome our true enemies, who are not of flesh and blood, but rather the evil spirits from without and from within ourselves.” Pope Bergoglio recalled that “the glorious history of the Gospel lived in this land is owed in a special way to Saint Nino, who is considered equal to the Apostles: she spread the faith with a particular form of the cross made of vine branches”. He also explained that Ilia II” opened a new chapter in the relations between the Orthodox Church of Georgia and the Catholic Church, making the first historic visit to the Vatican by a Georgian Patriarch”. Ilia II called the meeting a “historic moment” and said he was convinced that with the visit of the Successor of Peter, the relations between our churches will be strengthened. Today, we have given the word that we will pray for each other.”

Meeting with the authorities

Immediately after his arrival to Georgia, Bergoglio met the local authorities. “Twenty-five years have passed since the proclamation of independence in Georgia – he said -, which, during this period, found its full freedom, building and consolidating its democratic institutions and seeking ways to ensure an inclusive and authentic development”. All this happened “not without great sacrifices made by its people, which has courageously tackled to ensure the long-awaited freedom.” The Pontiff expressed his with for “the path of peace and development to continue with the joint efforts of all members of the society, so as to create a condition of stability, fairness, and respect for the law, likely to foster growth and increase everyone’s opportunities”.

A bridge between peoples

The history of Georgia has made “the country fully and fruitfully join the fold of European civilization; at the same time, as evidenced by its geographical location, it is almost a natural bridge between Europe and Asia, a hinge that facilitates communication and relationships between peoples, which allowed business, dialogue, and the exchange of ideas and experiences between different worlds across many centuries”.

The plight of refugees

Then, Bergoglio appealed to the “long-term vision” and “courage” to recognize the “authentic good of the peoples” and to “pursue it with determination and prudence.” It is ”essential to have always before my eyes the sufferings of the people to continue the path – patient and arduous, but also exciting and liberating -, of peace construction.” This way, we must find “political” solutions for the refugees.

Civil dialogue

Francis had recalled that to keep the “legitimate differences” and “disputes” – that always arise – in a context of “confrontation and civil dialogue” is “all the more necessary in the present historical moment, where there are also violent extremists who manipulate and distort the principles of civil and religious nature to exploit them for obscure plans of domination and death”. It should avoid “the differences resulting into violence intended to cause massive ruins for man and society. Any distinction of ethnic, linguistic, political or religious nature, far from being used as a pretext to transform the differences in conflicts and conflicts in endless tragedies, can and should be source of mutual enrichment for everyone and the benefit of the common good”.

The journey

The plane carrying the pope landed in Tbilisi at around 3 p.m. local time. Immediately after the departure, as usually, Bergoglio sent a greeting to the Italian president Sergio Mattarella. “The moment I am going on my apostolic visit to Georgia and Azerbaijan, to promote encounter and dialogue between different cultures and religions, to strengthen the path of Christian unity and to confirm the Catholic community in its faith – reads the telegram -, I am happy to address you, Mr. President, and the Italian nation with my heartfelt greetings, which I accompany with my fervent good wishes for the spiritual, civil, and social progress of Italy”. Soon after, he received the response of the head of state. “Your Holiness, I wish to send my most sincere thanks for the message you had kindly sent me when preparing to leave for the apostolic visit to Georgia and Azerbaijan – he wrote. Italy and the international community are looking with keen interest at this second mission in the Caucasus, in the certainty that your trip to Georgia and Azerbaijan will allow to transmit, after the visit to Armenia, new impetus to the ecumenical and interreligious dialogue in the region. I am sure that your presence in an area where conflicts and tensions rage will be the harbinger of a renewed message of hope and peace for all the peoples of the South Caucasus region and of the local Christian communities. I welcome the opportunity to renew my highest consideration and esteem.”

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