Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Saakashvili Thanks Vatican for 'Steadfast Support'

Speaking in the Catholic church in Tbilisi on December 25, President Saakashvili thanked the Holy Sea for "steadfast support" to Georgia's territorial integrity.

"I am especially grateful - and I have told it to Pope Benedict XVI [at a meeting in May, 2010] – for Vatican’s steadfast support to Georgia’s freedom, independence, and territorial integrity," said Saakashvili, who congratulated the Catholic community on Christmas.

Saakashvili also said: "I want to assure you that each of you should count on the support, love and assistance of the Georgian state."

"Georgian Catholics are an integral part of Georgian history and an important part of our cultural, spiritual, educational, national and multi-ethnic Georgian heritage," he said.

There are an estimated 35,000 Catholics in Georgia, according to the U.S. Department of State's annual report on religious rights.

According to the law, religious groups, other than the Georgian Orthodox Church, whose special role is recognized by the 2002 concordat with the state, may be registered with the government as either unions or foundations. 

The status is a source of dissatisfaction for some religious groups in Georgia, including for the Roman Catholic Church, which wants to be recognized explicitly as church or granted a distinct status as a group based on religion.

The Roman Catholic Church, according to the U.S. Department of State's 2010 religious freedom report, had to register parts of its community in Georgia in order to have legal control over its properties. 

But the Roman Catholic Church continued to express its discontent about this form of registration, which it said was denying dignity, according to the report.

In September, 2003, the Georgian government yielded to pressure from the Georgian Orthodox Church and in a last-minute decision canceled plans to sign an interstate agreement with Vatican, which would have guaranteed legal rights for the Catholic Church in Georgia.