Orthodox shun pope's Mass in Tbilisi, few Catholics turn out
By Philip Pullella and Margarita Antidze | TBILISI
Pope Francis on Saturday said Mass for unusually small crowd of just a few thousand Catholics in Georgia, a celebration that was further dampened when a delegation from the Orthodox Church stayed away.
Ex-Soviet Georgia is overwhelmingly Orthodox Christian and less than 1 percent of the population is Catholic, according to government figures.
Still, organizers were hoping for a much bigger turnout than the some 3,000 people who came to the Mass at a stadium in the capital that has a capacity of 25,000.
It was one of the smallest crowds ever seen at an outdoor papal Mass on Francis' 16 foreign trips so far.
In another setback, a delegation representing the Patriarch of the Georgian Orthodox Church, Ilia II, that the Vatican had expected to come to the worship service, did not show up.
Two days before the pope arrived, Ilia issued a statement saying Orthodox could not attend Catholic Masses because of doctrinal differences dating back to the 1054 schism that divided Christianity into eastern and western branches. (Doctrinal differences insurmountable only to the minds of those who have not assessed objectively the historical-theological record nor kept up with official Catholic/Orthodox theological dialogues.)
"We accept their decision (not to come)," said Vatican spokesman Greg Burke.
Under Francis, who was elected in 2013, the Vatican has made a concerted effort to improve relations with Orthodox Christians, who number around 250 million worldwide, in the hopes of an eventual reunion.
Screenshot/Al JazeeraEarlier this year, he held a historic meeting with Kirill, the patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church.
The Georgian Orthodox Church is one of the more conservative (obstinately uncharitable? unforgiving? communities) in the Orthodox world.
Some of (sic) members have followed the pope since he arrived on Friday to protest against the visit.
A small group (on several occasions, if one believes the photographs) held up signs outside the stadium reading: "Vatican is a spiritual aggressor" and "Pope, arch-heretic, you are not welcome in Orthodox Georgia." (One can imagine mixed feelings among sedevacantists right now.)
The pope met Patriarch Ilia after his arrival on Friday and was due to have another meeting with him on Saturday night. Francis leaves on Sunday for overwhelmingly Muslim Azerbaijan. He returns to Rome on Sunday night.
Given Orthodox antipathy toward the Vicar of Christ, the Bishop of Rome and Head of the Church, let us pray for Francis' safe return to Rome.
Francis, seen as progressive on some issues, also used his Georgian visit to defend the indissolubility of marriage.
He said adultery is inspired by "the Devil" and urged anyone tempted to betray their spouse to "seek immediate help".
"We must do everything to save a marriage," said Francis, defining divorce as an affront to God that makes children suffer, and insisting that "three magic words" - excuse me, thank you and sorry - can relieve marital strife.—Al Jazeera