Like all pastoral pilgrimages undertaken by the Popes, also the visit Pope Francis paid to Georgia and Azerbaijan was not an easy task. Besides the welcome events for the distinguished guest organized by the authorities and by the population, most of whom are Orthodox, there was room also for great embarrassment, mixed with tension and a number of questions which only the pastoral wisdom of Jorge Mario Bergoglio, the bishop of Rome who came from the “end of the world,” has been able to defuse in an elegant way and transform them into moments of frank, sincere, and fraternal dialogue.
As we could see, considering the sudden turnabout of the Georgian Orthodox delegation during papal Mass celebrated at the Tbilisi Stadium, despite the hierarchy of the local Orthodox Church had secured the participation of their representatives. A snub to the Pontiff, a true “slap” – as it was defined by newspapers around the world – which has taken aback the Vatican staff, that is the Pope’s delegation, where no one was expecting a similar gesture, especially after the warm meeting that took place only a few hours earlier between the Pope and the Georgian Orthodox patriarch.
“It is simply a choice dictated by internal issues and by an orthodox canon that prohibits the presence of their faithful during the prayer of a different confession” – reads the diplomatic explanation of the papal spokesman Greg Burke. Words that immediately silenced any other Vatican reaction, pretending to ignore the countless presences of Orthodox delegations during the papal prayers for example in the Vatican, Assisi, and in the Holy Land. In Georgia, however, the clock of the local Orthodox Church seems to have stopped centuries ago. To the point that, in addition to the Orthodox delegates, there were other disagreements, such as dissent of an extremist group against the Pope’s visit and the melancholy while crossing a Holy Door. Since there are no Catholic churches, it was built on a territory where local authorities are determined not to grant their consent to build a new sacred building for Georgian Catholics.
Francis did not look intimidated. He has not missed an opportunity to speak out and reaffirm loudly that the path of unity between Catholics and the Orthodox is the ”only one able to heal the wounds on the body of Christ”, which is already lacerated by “other injuries, such as ideological wars conducted on a global level against the family by defenders of gender theories, claims of easy divorce, other forms of marriage and failure to protect life”. These clarifications – while respecting the Catholic tradition – have been poorly digested by the radical chic, non-believers and believers of other religions, who, after Bergoglio’s election, do nothing but talk about the “openness” of this pontificate, putting him in opposition with previous popes. Francis, however, defended Christian life and family, without any omission.
Repeating his speech in Baku and Azerbaijgian, where he praised the “tenacity” of those who, relying on the power of faith, were able to break down the “oppression, persecution, and dictatorship” of past regimes (some people in Moscow, close to the powerful Orthodox Patriarchate, certainly did not appreciate it) assured that “I did not come here to waste time, but to stay close to the small Catholic flock, as the Holy Spirit, who has never wasted time, did in the Upper Room.”