Before he was presented with a digital educational programme: what we need to do today is build, not watch bombs fall on children, the sick and entire cities.
As is customary, Pope Francis dedicated the General Audience in St. Peter’s Square to his recent trip to Georgia and Azerbaijan (from last Friday to Sunday), referring often to his relationship with the leader of the Georgian orthodox Church and underlining that: “his testimony did my heart and soul much good”.
The Pope reiterated his hopes for peace in Azerbaijan and the Caucasus region as a whole. Before the audience, Francis received directors of the Vodafone foundation who presented an educational initiative for children in Africa. He praised the initiative “to do things which promote human advancement and not only to see bombs fall on innocent people, children, sick people, and entire cities.
“Last weekend I went on an apostolic visit to Georgia and Azerbaijan,” the Pope started off by saying. “I thank the Lord for the grace of my recent visit to Georgia and Azerbaijan, and I renew my gratitude to the civil and religious authorities of both countries, in particular to the Patriarch of All Georgia, Ilia II – his testimony did my heart and soul much good – and to the Sheikh of the Muslims of the Caucasus. I wish to express my fraternal gratitude to bishops, priests, religious and all faithful who made me feel their warm affection.”
“Both these countries,” the Pope underlined, “have ancient historical, cultural and religious roots but at the same time they are going through a new phase: indeed, this year they are both celebrating their 25th year of independence, having been under Soviet rule for much of the 20th century. At this present moment they are met with a number of difficulties in their various areas of social life”. In this context, the Catholic Church “is called to be present, be close, especially through charity and human promotion,” in communion with other Christian Churches and in dialogue with other religions.
In Georgia in particular, “this mission naturally depends on co-operation with our Orthodox brothers, who form the vast majority of the population. Indeed, the Pope remarked, “the fact that when I arrived at Tbilisi airport I found the esteemed Patriarch Ilia II waiting for me alongside the President of the Republic, is a very important sign”. My meeting with him that afternoon was moving as was the visit to the Patriarchal Cathedral the next day, when we venerated the relic of Christ’s tunic, a symbol of Church unity.
This unity was set in stone by the blood of many martyrs of different Christian denominations.” One of the most troubled communities, the Pope underlined, “is the Assyrian-Chaldean community with whom I shared an intense moment of prayer for peace in Syria, Iraq and the Middle East, when I was in Tbilisi”.
The mass with Catholic faithful celebrated the memory of St. Thérèse of the Child Jesus, “patroness of missions: she reminds us that the true mission does not involve proselytism but attraction to Christ, based on a strong bond with Him through prayer, adoration and concrete charity, in other words serving Jesus who is present in the least of our brothers”.
This “form of evangelical presence as a seed of the Kingdom of God,” the Pope continued, “is, if possible, all the more necessary in Azerbaijan, where most of the population is Muslim and Catholics amount to a few hundred. Thank God, however, they are on good terms with everyone and maintain particularly strong fraternal bonds with Orthodox Christians”. The Pope recalled the two crucial events which took place in Baku, the Eucharistic celebration with the “small Catholic community” and the interreligious meeting, saying: “As such, in my address to Azeri authorities, I expressed the hope that good solutions could be found to questions that remain unresolved and that all peoples of the Caucasus region may live in peace and show mutual respect”.
Present at the audience were, amongst others: the Invulnerables, a Catalan group that helps children at risk of social exclusion and a group of 33 Polish Auschwitz survivors: “I cordially greet all Poles here present today, especially former prisoners of Auschwitz concentration camp”.
Francis recalled that Poland celebrates the feast of St. Faustina Kowalska. Before the Audience in St. Peter’s Square, the Pope received the CEO of Vodafone in the Paul VI Hall, along with 40 company directors, who presented the “Instant Schools for Africa” initiative, aimed at giving young Africans, some of whom are hosted in refugee camps, online access to educational resources.
Francis expressed the wish that “among the resources offered to young people, there be access to the sacred texts of various religions in different languages”. He concluded with some words pronounced off the cuff, in what appeared to be a reference to Syria: “Thank you again for you again for your kindness and all the best for this project. I really like what I’ve heard – it’s constructive – and nowadays there is a need to be constructive, to do things which promote human advancement and not only to see bombs fall on innocent people, children, sick people, and entire cities. Build, and not destroy!”