As is customary upon the return from an apostolic visit, Pope Francis today dedicated his general audience address to a recap of last weekend’s trip to Georgia and Azerbaijan.
“This journey was the continuation and completion of the one to Armenia in the month of June,” he explained. “Thus, thank God, I was able to realize the plan to visit all three of these Caucasian countries, to confirm the Catholic Church that lives in them and to encourage the path of those populations towards peace and fraternity.”
The Pope noted his gratitude to God and to the authorities of both countries, in particular thanking the “Patriarch of All Georgia, Ilia II — his testimony did so much good to my heart and soul — and to the Sheikh of the Muslims of the Caucasus.”
The Holy Father spoke of both the “ancient historical, cultural and religious roots” of the two countries, as well as the fact that both are celebrating their 25th anniversary of independence, since “for a good part of the 20th century [they were] under the Soviet regime.”
The Church is present in the challenges of this phase of their history, the Pope assured, in charity and in supporting the development of peoples, “in communion with the other Christian Churches and Communities and in dialogue with the other religious communities, in the certainty that God is Father of all and we are <all> brothers and sisters.”
In Georgia, he said, this mission is lived in collaboration with the Orthodox, and in this context, he noted the importance of the Georgian Orthodox Patriarch’s welcome at the airport and their meetings together.
He referenced the relic of Christ’s tunic, present in their Patriarchal Cathedral, and a strong symbol of Christian unity, a unity “corroborated by the blood of so many martyrs of the different Christian Confessions.”
He also spoke of the prayer he made in Georgia with the Catholic community, “for peace in Syria, in Iraq and in the whole of the Middle East.”
Noting that his Mass in Georgia with the Catholic community was celebrated on the feast of St. Therese, patroness of the missions, the Pope said the saint “reminds us that true mission is never proselytism, but attraction to Christ from strong union with Him in prayer, in Adoration and in concrete charity, which is service to Jesus present in the littlest of brothers.”
He praised this witness of the Catholic community there, and also in Azerbaijan, as well as the witness of Christian families.
“This style of evangelical presence as seed of the Kingdom of God is, if possible, even more necessary in Azerbaijan,” Pope Francis continued, “where the majority of the population is Muslim and Catholics are a few hundred; however, thank God, they have good relations with all, in particular they maintain fraternal bonds with the Orthodox Christians.”
He spoke of both the celebration of the Eucharist and the interreligious meeting in Baku, saying that the unity with Christ in the Eucharist is a push toward interreligious dialogue.
In the Eucharist, he said, “the Spirit harmonizes the different languages and gives the strength of witness.”
“This communion in Christ,” he continued, “does not impede, but rather pushes one to seek encounter and dialogue with all those who believe in God, to build together a more just and fraternal world.”
He concluded with an allusion to the ongoing conflict over a region of the Caucasus, saying that “addressing the Azerbaijani Authorities, I hoped that the <existing> open questions might find good solutions and that all Caucasian populations may live in peace and in mutual respect.”
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