Georgia on My Mind

Excerpts from a report prepared by Msgr. Stern on his April visit to the Republic of Georgia.

by Msgr. Robert L. Stern
photos by Angelo Brusco, O.S.Cam

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Vatican Delegation
In response to an invitation extended by Mr. Eduard Shevardnadze, Georgia’s head of state, Cardinal Achille Silvestrini, Prefect of the Congregation for the Eastern Churches, led a small Vatican delegation to Georgia.

Other members included Msgr. Claudio Gugerotti, Official of the Congregation for the Eastern Churches; Father Angelo Brusco, O.S.Cam., Superior General of the Order of St. Camillus; Mr. Francesco Carloni of Caritas Italiana; and me.

The overall purposes of the trip were to call upon civil and ecclesiastical authorities and to make pastoral visits to representative small Catholic communities. A special purpose was to explore the feasibility of building a multipurpose health clinic in Tbilisi to be staffed by the Camillian Fathers and placed at the service of the people of Georgia in the name of the pope.

General Description
Georgia and its neighboring republics of Armenia and Azerbaijan, separated from Russia by the Caucasus Mountains, historically have been a frontier between Europe and Asia. A part of the Russian and Soviet empires since the 18th century, Georgia declared its independence again in 1990.

Covering an area of 26,900 square miles, Georgia has a population of 5,400,000 according to its 1989 census. Its capital, Tbilisi, has 1,300,000 inhabitants.

Descendants of ancient tribes, ethnic Georgians are unrelated to the Russians and other Slavs and make up 70 percent of the population. Over 80 other nationalities live in Georgia, including Abkhazians, Armenians, Ossetians and Russians.

Known to the ancient Greeks as Colchis, the mythical land to which Jason voyaged to find the Golden Fleece, Georgia was conquered by Pompey in 66 B.C. and brought into the Roman sphere. It remained firmly allied with Rome for almost three centuries.

Georgia’s independence from Rome dates from the Roman recognition of Mirian III as the King of Kartli-Iberia (eastern Georgia) in 298 A.D. He became a Christian and made Christianity the official religion of his kingdom in 337. By the 6th century, Christianity was the state religion in Colchis (western Georgia) as well.

In 645, the Arabs captured Tbilisi and installed an emir there to rule in the name of the caliph. Arab rule weakened with the expansion of the Byzantine empire. By 1027 the Georgian kingdoms were a united and independent power in the Caucasus.

The Seljuk Turks from Central Asia defeated the Byzantines and controlled the area for 50 years. They were finally defeated in 1122 by the Georgian king, David the Builder. This victory ushered in Georgia’s Golden Age.

In the 13th century the Mongols invaded Georgia more than once and dominated it for over 100 years. After briefly repulsing Mongol rule, the Georgian kingdom was again invaded and conquered in 1386.

After repeated invasions and conquests by Mongols, Ottoman Turks and Persians, the Georgian king sought Russian protection in 1783. Georgia was annexed by Russia in 1800.

In 1918, Georgia declared itself an independent republic, but in 1921 the Red Army invaded and it was once again annexed by Russia.

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Tags: Armenia Georgia Soviet Union Georgian Orthodox Church Tbilisi