Pope Francis 16th journey outside of Italy from September 30 to October 2 to two countries, Georgia and Azerbaijan, where Catholics are a small minority, will be a difficult one.
In Georgia, in fact, Catholics
are just 112 thousand out of a population of over 3.5 million and in
Azerbaijan they are just 570, or 0.01 per cent of the nearly 10 million
Beyond the numbers, they are two very different realities. Georgia is
the country where over 80 percent of the inhabitants are Christians,
but the Orthodox Church is particularly “intransigent” on its
This is demonstrated by its decision not to participate in
the Pan-Orthodox Council that was held in Crete in June this year and
the fact that between the Patriarch Ilia II and the Pope there will be
no joint prayer.
The patriarch, however, will be at Tbilisi airport. This was
announced by the director of the Vatican press office, Greg Burke, who
described the visit today.
"Of course - he said – it is a journey of
peace. The Pope carries a message of reconciliation for the whole
region. It will be the first time that an Orthodox delegation will
participate in the Mass presided by the Holy Father."
In short, things
will go a bit' better the visit by John Paul II in November 1999, when a
penance was imposed on those who had attended the celebrations and
meetings with the Pope.
Instead Azerbaijan is a Muslim country and Francis, as John Paul II
did before him, is going there for reasons of inter-religious relations,
and political and diplomatic reasons, due to the decades-long conflict
with Armenia over Nagorno-Karabakh.
The Pope will leave Friday morning and will arrive in Tbilisi at 15
After the welcoming ceremony and the traditional courtesy
visit to President Giorgi Margvelashvili and with the Georgian
authorities, Francis will travel to the palace to meet with Catholicos
Patriarch Elijah II.
The last appointment of the day, a visit to the Chaldean Catholic
church of St. Simon Bar Sabbae, where he will attend the Chaldean Synod,
namely the episcopate of the Eastern Church in communion with Rome
widespread mainly in Iraq and the Middle East.
In the church of St.
Simon Bar Sabbae Pope Francis will preside at a prayer service to
express closeness to the Syrian and Iraqi peoples.
The next day, Saturday, October 1, Francis will celebrate Mass in M.
Subsequently, in the church of the Assumption, he will
meet priests, religious and seminarians and in the Camillians Service
Center he will meet with those assisted by the Church's charitable works
as well as the operators. The last appointment of the day, a visit to
the Patriarchal Cathedral of Svetitskhoveli in Mtskheta.
On Sunday, October 2, the Pope will leave Georgia for Azerbaijan. The
arrival in Baku is scheduled at 9:30 am, local time. Francis will
travel to the church of the Salesian Center in Baku, where he will
After lunch, in the Presidential Palace Ganjlik there will be the
official ceremony of welcome and the visit to the President of the
Republic Ilham Aliyev. The Pope will then visit the war of independence
memorial ' and local authorities.
At 17.45, he is expected to hold a private meeting with the Sheikh of
Caucasus Muslims in the mosque "Heydar Aliyev", followed by an
interfaith meeting with representatives of the communities present in
the country. It will be the last event of the trip.
The Pope’s departure
is scheduled for 19:15, and the arrival in Rome for 22.00.