3 October 2016
Pope Francis meets with Orthodox Patriarch Ilia II of Georgia at the Svetitskhoveli Cathedral in Mtskheta. (photo: CNS/Paul Haring)
Paying honor to the steadfast faith of Orthodox Christians in Georgia, Pope Francis nevertheless urged them to draw closer to other Christians and work together to share the Gospel.
Georgian Orthodox Patriarch Ilia II, who recently has been cautious in his relations with leaders of other churches, greeted Pope Francis when he arrived at the Tbilisi airport on 30 September, welcomed him to the patriarchal palace that evening and hosted him again on 1 October at Svetitskhoveli Cathedral in Mtskheta.
Walking into a meeting hall at the patriarchate on 30 September, Pope Francis helped the 83-year-old Patriarch Ilia, who moves with great difficulty because of Parkinson’s disease.
More than 80 percent of Georgians are Orthodox; Catholics from the Latin, Armenian and Chaldean churches form about 2 percent of the population.
In the 1980’s, the Georgian Orthodox Church was deeply involved in the process of seeking Christian unity, but its participation has waned in recent years in conjunction with a stronger assertion of Georgian identity, including its language and Orthodox faith.
When the pope arrived in Georgia, small groups of Orthodox faithful gathered on the road outside Tbilisi airport holding signs protesting the his visit. One sign called him a “heretic” and the other accused the Catholic Church of “spiritual aggression.” The same groups were present the next evening outside Svetitskhoveli Cathedral, the spiritual center of the Georgian Orthodox Church.
The Orthodox groups most opposed to dialogue with Western Christians have expressed fear that closer ties with the West will lead to what they see as moral decadence.
Patriarch Ilia told Pope Francis that while globalization is not “a negative phenomenon per se, it contains a lot of dangers and threats,” including the possibility of creating what he described as a “homogenous mess” that erases specific cultural and moral values.
While the world has experienced progress in many ways, he said, “humanity has taken steps backward in spirituality, in belief in God.”
Nevertheless, the patriarch spoke warmly of Catholic-Orthodox dialogue and practical cooperation and he welcomed the pope, saying, “This is truly a historic visit. May God bless our two churches.”
Pope Francis began his speech by making a personal, improvised comment: “I am profoundly moved by hearing the ‘Ave Maria’ composed by Your Holiness. Only a heart profoundly devoted to the Mother of God could compose something so beautiful.”
“Faced with a world thirsting for mercy, unity and peace,” Pope Francis told the patriarch and members of the Georgian Synod of Bishops, God asks Catholics and Orthodox to “renew our commitment to the bonds which exist between us, of which our kiss of peace and our fraternal embrace are already an eloquent sign.”
While the Georgian patriarchate traces its origins to the preaching of the apostle Andrew, the church of Rome — the papacy — was founded by the apostle Peter. The two apostles were brothers, Pope Francis noted, and the churches they founded “are given the grace to renew today, in the name of Christ and to his glory, the beauty of apostolic fraternity.”
“Dear brother,” the pope told the patriarch, “let us allow the Lord Jesus to look upon us anew, let us once again experience the attraction of his call to leave everything that prevents us from proclaiming together his presence.”
“The Lord has given this love to us, so that we can love each other as he has loved us,” Pope Francis said.
The love of God and love for God, he said, should enable Catholics and Orthodox “to rise above the misunderstandings of the past, above the calculations of the present and fears for the future.”
Pope Francis praised the strength of the Georgian people and the Georgian church, which “found the strength to rise up again after countless trials.”
Pope Francis and the Orthodox patriarch of Georgia met on 30 September and pledged to witness to the Gospel of peace. (video: CNS)
The Georgian Orthodox Church, like the Catholic churches, is still recovering from harsh repression under Soviet rule. In 1917, there were almost 2,500 Orthodox churches in the country, but by the mid-1980’s only 80 were open for worship. The Catholic parishes suffered a similar fate, with church property confiscated and used as museums, offices, social halls or given to the Orthodox.
“The multitude of saints, whom this country counts, encourages us to put the Gospel before all else and to evangelize as in the past, even more so, free from the restraints of prejudice and open to the perennial newness of God,” the pope said.
When differences arise, he said, they must not be allowed to be an obstacle to evangelizing together, but a stimulus to get to know and understand each other better, “to intensify our prayers for each other and to cooperate with apostolic charity in our common witness, to the glory of God in heaven and in the service of peace on earth.”
Pope Francis ended his remarks by praying that the Georgian martyrs would intercede to bring “relief to the many Christians who even today suffer persecution and slander, and may they strengthen us in the noble aspiration to be fraternally united in proclaiming the Gospel of peace.”
Vatican officials had hoped that Patriarch Ilia would an official delegation to the pope’s Mass in Tbilisi on 1 October, which did not happen, but the patriarch warmly welcomed the pope to Svetitskhoveli Cathedral that evening, explaining the importance of the site in the history of Georgian Christianity and describing it as a symbol of stalwart faith in the face of the harshest persecution.
Pope Francis responded by praising the way the Georgian Orthodox treasure their history, but he also said that Christian identity is maintained when it not only is deeply rooted in faith, but “also when it is open and ready, never rigid or closed.”
Georgian Orthodox tradition holds that a chapel in the cathedral houses the seamless tunic of Jesus, a garment the pope described as symbolizing “a mystery of unity.”
Contemplating that seamless garment, he said, should make Christians feel “deep pain over the historical divisions” among them. “These are the true and real lacerations that wound the Lord’s flesh.”
30 September 2016
Tags: Pope Francis Ecumenism Christian Unity Georgia Georgian Orthodox Church
Pope Francis and Orthodox Patriarch Ilia II of Georgia arrive for a meeting at the patriarchal palace in Tbilisi, Georgia, on 30 September. (photo: CNS/Paul Haring)
Subtly acknowledging Georgia’s ongoing territorial dispute with Russia, Pope Francis urged greater efforts to sow peace throughout the Caucasus region.
Shortly after arriving in Tbilisi at the start of his 16th foreign trip, the pope met privately with Georgian President Giorgi Margvelashvili 30 September and, with the president, he addressed a small gathering of civic leaders and members of the diplomatic corps outside the presidential palace.
In a nation where more than 230,000 people are still displaced by the ongoing Georgian-Russian dispute over control of South Ossetia, the pope said it was time to find a way for the displaced to return to their homes and for respect for the “sovereign rights” of each nation. Only Russia and a handful of other nations recognize the supposed independence of South Ossetia.
The theme the government and local church chose for the pope’s visit 30 September-1 October was “pax vobis,” “peace be with you.”
Margvelashvili was more blunt than the pope. Georgia, he said, “is still victim of a military aggression on the part of another state: 20 percent of our territory is occupied and 15 percent of the population is displaced. Their homes were taken only because they are ethnically Georgian!”
“Only 40 kilometers (about 25 miles) from here, there is barbed wire that prevents a peaceful population — neighbors and relatives — from having a relationship with each other,” the president said. “Only 40 kilometers from here, each day human beings witness violence, kidnappings, murders and offenses that deeply wound dignity.”
The return of displaced people is the government’s primary concern, he said. “Human beings should not have to suffer because of political situations and they have a right to return to their own homes.”
Pope Francis urged the people of the region to make concerted efforts to respect their cultural and ethnic differences, giving everyone a chance “to coexist peacefully in their homeland or freely to return to that land if, for some reason, they have been forced to leave it.”
“The peaceful coexistence among all peoples and states in the region is the indispensable and prior condition for such authentic and enduring progress,” the pope told the country’s leaders.
Georgia, which had been part of the Soviet Union, has been working for 25 years to build democracy and promote development. Pope Francis said he hoped the process would continue, increasingly involving all sectors of society to ensure “stability, justice and respect for the rule of law.”
Both the pope and the president emphasized Georgia’s “European” identity, but also it’s geographical location and historic role as a meeting place of Asia and Europe. Over Russian objections, Georgia has been trying to join the members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization; it has belonged to the Council of Europe since 1999.
The formal meetings took place after a brief airport welcoming ceremony. The president and patriarch were at the airport to welcome the pope, as were a boy and girl, who offered him a basket of grapes.
Pope Francis and Orthodox Patriarch Ilia II, bowed by age and Parkinson’s disease, stood next to each other as the Vatican and Georgian national anthems were played.
29 September 2016
Families displaced by violence arrive in June at a temporary shelter in Kirkuk, Iraq. Chaldean Catholic bishops, meeting for their annual synod in Erbil, Iraq, pleaded for peace in the Middle East and for the liberation of areas seized by the Islamic State so that the displaced can return to their homes. (photo: CNS/EPA)
Chaldean Catholic bishops, meeting for their annual synod, pleaded for peace in the Middle East and for the liberation of areas seized by the Islamic State group so that the displaced can return to their homes.
Chaldeans were among the approximately 120,000 Christians who were uprooted when the Islamic State seized Mosul and the Ninevah Plain in Iraq during the summer of 2014.
In the final statement issued at the conclusion of the 22-27 September synod, the 20 bishops from Iraq, Iran, Syria, Lebanon, the United States, Canada and Australia also expressed their solidarity with Bishop Antoine Audo of Aleppo, Syria, one of the participants.
They called for officials to “stop the war in Syria and sit together in a constructive dialogue to find a peaceful political solution that preserves the country and the nation.”
Regarding the issue of priests and monks who left their dioceses and monasteries in Iraq without formal permission to emigrate, the bishops emphasized that such departures from the homeland “were raising doubts among faithful.” Consequently, the statement directed that those priests and monks must “leave their current dioceses (abroad) immediately.”
“We could accept them, on condition that one of the Chaldean bishops can accommodate them after a month or two of rehabilitation,” the statement continued. “Meanwhile, (those) priests should return to their bishops to regularize their status before commencing their pastoral mission.” They confirmed that Chaldean Father Noel Gorgis, who had emigrated without permission, had been ordered to leave the Eparchy of St. Peter the Apostle in San Diego.
The synod selected three candidates for bishop of the San Diego eparchy to be sent to Pope Francis. Bishop Shlemon Warduni has been serving as interim bishop of the eparchy since the retirement of Bishop Sarhad Jammo.
The statement said that the Chaldean Church will proceed with the cause for canonization of Catholics martyred in Iraq since 2003, including Archbishop Faraj Rahho, Father Father Ragheed Kani, four deacons and a nun.
28 September 2016
Children help one another at the Our Lady of Armenia Education Center in Tashir, Armenia. For more about the spirit and perseverance of the Church of Armenia, check out An Unshakable Faith in the Autumn 2016 edition of ONE. (photo: Nazik Armenakyan)
27 September 2016
The Ethiopian Catholic bishop of Emdibir celebrates the Divine Liturgy at St. Anthony of Padua Cathedral. The Autumn 2016 edition of ONE turns a spotlight on the Eastern churches, celebrating their rich history and diversity. To learn more about the Church of Alexandria and its flourishing faith in Africa, check out this profile. (photo: John E. Kozar)
26 September 2016
Bassem Hazboun, a Catholic Palestinian chef from Bethlehem in the West Bank, center, is pictured in an undated photo. Hazboun says food is part of his identity and he loves sharing cuisine from the Holy Land with those who are not familiar with it.
(photo: CNS/courtesy Bright Stars of Bethlehem)
When he was a child, Bassem Hazboun loved helping his mother prepare French delicacies in their Bethlehem kitchen. But it was his father who kept trying to steer him to study engineering as he reached his teens.
“You don’t need this,” his father said when Hazboun told him he wanted to take a cooking course. But the passion he found while cooking by this mother’s side never left.
“My food is my identity,” said Hazboun, a Catholic Palestinian who traveled in September from his native Bethlehem in the West Bank to showcase food from his homeland to various U.S. cities, including Washington and Connecticut, part of the “Room for Hope” festival. The festival aims to raise money for scholarships to help youth in the Holy Land study music, dance, cooking and other arts.
Chef Hazboun, 39, studied at Bethlehem University, a Catholic university in the Holy Land, and is the head of the culinary arts program at Dar al-Kalima University’s College of Arts and Culture in Bethlehem, which helps youth in the Holy Land hone skills in arts and culture.
Hazboun said food from the Holy Land is in a way unique for Christians because some of it hails from biblical times. Sometimes he prepares biblical menus, he said, for those who arrive in the Holy Land for religious pilgrimages. This may mean a menu that includes a lentil soup, a dish of lamb and yogurt, too. Food from the Holy Land also features lots of olives, which are abundant in the region, he said, and spices you won’t find elsewhere.
“All the foods are special,” he told Catholic News Service.
It’s important for him, he said, to help his students develop a love for the food of their region and to see something positive about their identity as Palestinians through the craft. It’s a love that many of them can share with others and can also allow them to stay in the Holy Land, where work for Palestinians is scarce. Luckily, with tourism, many of them are able to find jobs at restaurants in Bethlehem, he said.
“Sometimes I visit the restaurant and they feed me good,” said Hazboun.
Beth Nelson Chase, executive director of Bright Stars Bethlehem in the U.S., the nonprofit that sponsored the festival, said programs such as the ones chef Hazboun teaches in Bethlehem help students learn skills that are useful for the economy of their homelands, where coming across a job can sometimes prove difficult.
“It gives people hope,” Chase said.
The Rev. Mitri Raheb, a Lutheran pastor and president of Bright Stars of Bethlehem, said in a statement that the events focusing on the arts and food of the Holy Land were part of the mission of building cultural bridges “important for both the U.S. and Palestine.”
“We are excited to expose our friends in the U.S. to Palestinian culture and art,” he said.
23 September 2016
Parishioners light votive candles at St. Hripsime Church, built in the year 618 in Vagharshapat, Armenia — the city also known as Etchmiadzin, the seat of the Armenian Apostolic Church. The Armenians, whose ancient homeland now encompasses parts of Asia Minor, the Caucasus and northwestern Iran, have endured for more than 3,000 years, outlasting more powerful neighbors in Asia and Europe who have repeatedly and relentlessly sought to subjugate and even obliterate them. Learn more about the Church of Armenia in the pages of the Autumn 2016 special edition of ONE. (photo: Armineh Johannes)
22 September 2016
Tags: Armenia Eastern Christianity Eastern Churches ONE magazine Etchmiadzin
Greek Orthodox Patriarch Diodoros I of Jerusalem leads the procession out of Church of Holy Sepulchre on Palm Sunday, 1988. The Orthodox Patriarchal Church of Jerusalem accounts for about a third of the 400,000 Christians who participate in the life of the Church of Jerusalem, at the birthplace of the faith. Learn more about the Church of Jerusalem in the pages of the Autumn 2016 special edition of ONE. (photo: Paul Souders)
21 September 2016
Tags: Jerusalem Eastern Christianity Eastern Churches ONE magazine
A child attends the Divine Liturgy in the Melkite Greek Catholic Church of Sts. Peter and Paul in Shefa-‘Amr, a small city in the Galilee. The Melkite Greek Catholic Church is one of ten distinct churches that together form the richly diverse Church of Antioch. Learn more about the Church of Antioch in the pages of the Autumn 2016 special edition of ONE. (photo: Ilene Perlman)
20 September 2016
Tags: Eastern Christianity Eastern Churches Melkite Greek Catholic Church Antiochene church Antioch
Good Shepherd Sister Odile, a Coptic Catholic, cares for children at her order’s orphanage in Suez, Egypt. For thousands of years, ethnic Christians — or Copts — have formed a major constituency of the Church of Alexandria, which in Africa includes a number of other Eastern churches, Catholic and Orthodox. Learn more about the Church of Alexandria in the pages of the Autumn 2016 special edition of ONE. (photo: David Degner)
Tags: Egypt Africa Eastern Christianity Horn of Africa