Pope Francis visits the Caucasus. The first stop is in Tbilisi

Georgy Kalatozishvili, Tbilisi. Exclusively to Vestnik Kavkaza
Pope Francis visits the Caucasus. The first stop is in Tbilisi

The Pope’s visit to the Caucasus comes to end. The Pope's first stop was in Georgia. On Friday, an Alitalia Airlines Boeing landed at Tbilisi airport  exactly  at 15.00. The pilots had planted the state flags of Georgia and Vatican before the landing. The Pope came out of the cabin, took off his hat and went down the stairs. He was met by Catholicos-Patriarch of All Georgia Ilia II, and President Giorgi Margvelashvili and his wife. Of particular interest was a form of greeting of the spiritual leader of the Catholics and the head of one of the Orthodox churches - the cameras recorded that the Pope knelt and kissed the cross on Patriarch Illia’s  chest. At this time, hundreds of the local Catholics conducted joyful and loud rally not far away from the liner. They sang and held posters with a motto  of the Pope’s visit ‘’Peace be with you!".

The main purpose of a historic visit has been repeatedly confirmed in the speeches of Pope Francis, Including at the joint briefing with President of Georgia Giorgi Margvelashvili. Speaking to the representatives of the diplomatic corps on the steps of the presidential palace, the Pope called Georgia a "bridge between cultures" and "traditional place for dialogue among civilizations".

In addition, the Popes’s speech was of the regional importance. Francis appealed not only to the people of Georgia, but to the whole Caucasus: "In order to establish a lasting and true peace, we must realize that all differences and disagreements should be included in the mainstream of a civilized dialogue, taking place on the basis of the mutual responsibility."  According to him, the differences, including cultural, ethnic and religious "must serve precisely to dialogue rather than confrontation."

The Pope focused on the problem of refugees, saying that since the main value is a human being, ‘’ it is necessary to ensure the right for everyone to return to his home, if he had to leave it for whatever reasons, and to live peacefully in his native land."

A peacekeeping mission of the head of the Catholic Church smoothed the problems that accompanied a visit of the Pope to the Orthodox Georgia. During the meeting of the Pope, a few hundred meters away from the airport a small but very noisy rally was conducted under the leadership of the current GOC cleric, Archpriest David Isakadze with the participation  of the Orthodox Church parishioners. They were holding posters with the words: ‘’The Pope-heretic, you are not welcomed in Georgia!". The protesters expressed outrage that the Pope "intends to engage in proselytism and entice the Orthodox to the Catholic heresy."

It is noteworthy that the authorities did not take any violent action against the protesters, knowing well that this may cause the opposite effect. However, on the background of the wise and peaceful applications of both Pope Francis and Patriarch Illia, the protest did not become a significant event.

A small number of participants of the Catholic Mass on the Tbilisi Mikheil Meskhi Stadium was perceived as normal. Only 3 thousand people came to attend a church service, (President Margvelashvili was among them), while the stadium has a 30000-spectator capacity. But none was confused by this fact, because a pastoral mission of the Pope is a spiritual support of all the Catholic communities, no matter how small they are.

Tbilisi believes that the political significance of the visit can not be overestimated, as the enormous prestige and influence of the guardian of the Chair of St. Peter and Vatican's involvement in the peace process in the Caucasus can play a positive role in the fair resolution of the  long-term conflicts.