Pope Francis showed his poetic side during his trip this weekend to the Caucasus, using visual imagery to drive home two of the main reasons for his trip: a pull for Christian unity, and an appeal to live in peace and understanding.
Catholics in both Georgia and Azerbaijan are a very small minority.
Georgia is primarily Georgian Orthodox (84% of the population) and Catholics there make up less than 1% of the population.
Azerbaijan is mostly Muslim (97% of the population, primarily Shiite) and Catholics there only number in the few hundreds.
Christian unity was a main theme during the Holy Father’s time in Georgia, and the trip spotlighted the difficulties on the path to Orthodox-Catholic unity, coming just days after the Georgian Orthodox Church was in disagreement with the accord reached by the Catholic-Orthodox Commission for theological dialogue, regarding primacy and synodality in the first millennium.
The Patriarch’s welcome of the Pope was warm and the two appeared together on various occasions during the Holy Father’s brief stay in Georgia, but there was a notable absence of a Georgian Orthodox delegation at the Pope’s public Mass.
The Holy Father’s last stop in Georgia was a visit Saturday night to the Patriarchal Cathedral, where, according to tradition, Our Lord’s tunic was buried along with one of Georgia’s most revered saints, St. Sidonia. Drawing on the Church Fathers, the Pope used the imagery of this tunic — which as the Gospel tells us was without seam, woven from top to bottom — to exhort his listeners to work and pray for Christian unity.
Light shining through
Today, in the Muslim country, the Pope again called on his poetic side, offering a visual image to promote a peace rapport between society and religions.
“I refer to the precious artistic windows that have been here for centuries, crafted simply out of wood and tinted glass (Shebeke),” he explained.
The Pope noted how when these windows are made with traditional methods, “there is a peculiar characteristic: neither glue nor nails are used, but the wood and the glass are set into each other through time-consuming and meticulous effort. Thus, the wood supports the glass and the glass lets in the light.”
“In the same way,” he said, “it is the task of every civil society to support religion, which allows a light to shine through, indispensable for living. In order for this to happen, an effective and authentic freedom must be guaranteed. Artificial kinds of ‘glue’ cannot be used, which bind people to believe, imposing on them a determined belief system and depriving them of the freedom to choose; nor is there a need for the external ‘nails’ of worldly concerns, of the yearning for power and money.”
God cannot be used, the Pope said. “He cannot be used to justify any form of fundamentalism, imperialism or colonialism. From this highly symbolic place, a heartfelt cry rises up once again: no more violence in the name of God! May his most holy Name be adored, not profaned or bartered as a commodity through forms of hatred and human opposition.”
The Holy Father said that prayer and dialogue are “profoundly interconnected: they flow from an openness of heart and extend to the good of others, thus enriching and reinforcing each other.”
And he said that a true peace is “founded on mutual respect, encounter and sharing, on the will to go beyond prejudices and past wrongs, on the rejection of double standards and self-interests; a lasting peace, animated by the courage to overcome barriers, to eradicate poverty and injustice, to denounce and put an end to the proliferation of weapons and immoral profiteering on the backs of others.”
“The blood of far too many people cries out to God from the earth, our common home,” the Pope stated, adding that we must build together a future of peace.
“Now is not the time for violent or abrupt solutions, but rather an urgent moment to engage in patient processes of reconciliation,” he said. “The real question of our time is not how to advance our own causes, but what proposals for life are we offering to future generations; how to leave them a better world than the one we have received. God, and history itself, will ask us if we have spent ourselves pursuing peace; the younger generations, who dream of a different future, pointedly direct this question to us.”
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