Friday, September 30, 2016

Message of reconciliation for visit to Georgia, Azerbaijan

Peace and solidarity key
Pope Francis this weekend will visit Georgia and Azerbaijan, two former Soviet republics radically different from each other, in what’s perceived as the closing of his Caucasus tour after his visit to Armenia last June. Crux reports.

Georgia is a country with a Christian Orthodox majority and in constant friction with Russia, while Azerbaijan has a Shia Muslim majority and a long-standing dispute with Armenia over the province of Nagorno-Karabakh.

Pope Francis is expected to bring up the issues of peace, solidarity, and reconciliation throughout the three-day visit, making the pitch at both religious and political levels.

As Italian Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Vatican’s top diplomat, said speaking to the Vatican’s Television Centre this week, these lands have a “particular richness and liveliness, but at the same time they suffer from particular strains, lacerations.”

“The message of the Pope will really be an invitation to do what he often says: Don’t turn differences into sources of conflict, but of mutual enrichment,” he said.

The motto of the papal visit for Georgia will be “We are all brothers,” which has an evident ecumenical undertone, and for Azerbaijan Pax vobis, which translates to “peace to you.”

Hence the trip presents itself as a sensitive one, where locals might hope for the Pope to address some long-standing disputes, but which Francis might choose to skip to avoid adding fuel to the fire or being perceived as taking sides.

Although comparisons are difficult, there are some statistics worth looking into ahead of this trip, the 16th of Francis’ papacy, and the 23rd and 24th countries he visits, respectively.

The two countries have welcomed a Pope once before, St John Paul II, who visited Georgia in 1999 and Azerbaijan in 2002.

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