Tbilisi, Georgia, Sep 30, 2016 / 15:13 pm
Pope Francis on his visit to Georgia will find a country where dialogue among Christians is particularly difficult, with cool relations between the Georgian Orthodox Church and the country’s tiny Catholic minority.
For this reason his trip is “ecumenical, but not according to the common meaning of the word ecumenism,” a top official of the Catholic Church in Georgia told CNA.
The Georgian Orthodox Church – an Eastern Orthodox Church to which more than 80 percent of Georgians adhere – is considered part of the national identity. While it is not an established religion, the Georgian constitution does acknowledge Georgian Orthodoxy's special role in the nation.
Catholics, meanwhile, constitute only one percent of Georgia's population, while members of the Armenian Apostolic Church (which is Oriental Orthodox) are three percent, and Muslims are more than 10 percent.
Fr. Akaki Chelidze, a Camillian Father who serves as chancellor of the Apostolic Administration of the Caucasus, spoke about the situation in Georgia.
He said the Orthodox Church in Georgia has always considered itself the “necessary glue to keep the nation together.” This is probably why it considers other religious denominations as “rivals, or even obstacles, for the unity of the country.”
The delicate situation with the Georgian Orthodox Church could overshadow the papal visit there.
Relations between Catholics and Orthodox are cool: It is no coincidence that there will be no common prayer celebrated by Pope Francis and Patriarch Ilia II, though it is a sign of goodwill that the patriarch was present at the Pope's arrival at Tbilisi airport on Friday.