"The Orthodox Church and fundamentalists don't want a Catholic presence in Georgia," Fr. Benny Yadgar told Forum 18 News Service Oct. 18. The priest fears that “fanatics could attack our people with knives and wooden posts” if the people begin to use the new centre for worship.
The attack took place about four days after anonymous, undated leaflets started to circulate in the district, alleging that “Catholics are aggressive proselytizers who killed our monks in the 14th and 15th centuries. It also alleged they marry cats and dogs and give the Eucharist to animals,” recounted the priest.
The leaflets stirred people up against Catholics and urged them to come to the centre.
The attack was instigated by fundamentalist Orthodox, determined to prevent a Catholic church from being built, said Giorgi Khutsishvili, head of the Tbilisi-based International Center of Conflict Negotiations.
He said the Assyrian Catholic community has the right to build its centre, reported Forum 18. His group has hosted a meeting of the multi-faith Religions Council to discuss the issue.
Fr. Yadgar insists that the problems do not come from the authorities. He said the police had offered to send officers to protect the building, as long as the Assyrians paid for it. The community turned down the offer.
There is also a petition currently underway in the local district. Organizers are saying they need 200,000 signatures to block the Catholic centre from operating.
Fr. Yadgar said the office of the Human Rights Ombudsperson has been sympathetic and has scheduled an Oct. 27 meeting, where he and his bishop, Bishop Giuseppe Pasotto, can discuss their concerns.
But the priest is disappointed by the lack of support from the Orthodox Church authorities. Fr. Yadgar said the Georgian Orthodox Patriarchate has failed to speak out against the threats. "I called on Patriarch Ilya to defend our church, but he says it is not his business," the priest was quoted by Forum 18 as saying.
According to the news service, the Orthodox Patriarchate has successfully prevented almost all minority faiths from openly building new places of worship in recent years. Some Georgian Orthodox priests have a record of inciting mob violence against religious minorities.
Georgia's politicians also have shown little interest in the Assyrian Catholics' concerns, some denying that an attack on the center took place, others saying they did not receive any reports of violence or fear.
Human rights activists and other religious minorities, such as the Baptists, Lutherans, and Armenian Apostolic Church, have defended the Assyrian Catholic community.
The Assyrian Catholic center is to include classrooms and meeting rooms with a sanctuary for worship. Although all the external work is now complete, Fr. Yadgar said completing the interior could take another year, especially in the wake of the damage and the difficulty in finding funds to continue.
.- Assyrian Catholics in Georgia’s capital city of Tblisi, continue to live in fear of attack after a hostile mob of 60 invaded and damaged their nearly completed religious and cultural centre Sept. 18.