By Hannah Brockhaus
God’s love and our unity in Christ are what enable us to overcome conflict and disagreement, and to spread the Gospel – which is what bears spiritual and artistic fruit, Pope Francis said in Georgia on Friday.
“Truly, the love of the Lord raises us up, because it enables us to rise above the misunderstandings of the past, above the calculations of the present and fears for the future,” the Pope said in a meeting with the head of the Georgian Orthodox Church, which is one of the 14 autocephalous Eastern Orthodox Churches.
Unity between the Georgian Orthodox Church and Catholic Church, joined with a firm faith in Christ, the Pope said, is necessary so that “the Gospel may bear fruit in our day,” just as saints “put the Gospel before all else.”
Pope Francis met with Ilia II, Catholicos and Patriarch of All Georgia, at the Patriarchal Palace in the Georgian capital of Tbilisi Sept. 30.
Tbilisi is the Pope’s first stop during his Sept. 30-Oct. 2 visit to Georgia and Azerbaijan. Expected to largely focus on the topics of peace, ecumenism, and interreligious dialogue, the trip is seen as a conclusion of his Caucasus tour, following his visit to Armenia in June.
In his speech, the Pope expressed that love is the path to overcoming all disagreements and conflict, stating that the “true enemy” is not other people, but the evil spirit that is within ourselves.
“It is as if the great poet of this land, Shota Rustaveli, is speaking to us with some of his renowned words,” Pope Francis said.
Quoting from the epic poem “The Knight in the Panther’s Skin,” he said: “Have you read how the Apostles write about love, how they speak, how they praise it? Know this love, and turn your mind to these words: love raises us up.”
Even in the face of countless trials, Francis stated, the people of Georgia have testified to the greatness of God’s love by rising up to “the heights of extraordinary artistic beauty.”
Historically, the head of the Georgian Orthodox Church and the Bishop of Rome have always had a good relationship, Pope Francis noted. The last time Ilia II met with the head of the Catholic Church was during St. John Paul II’s apostolic visit to Georgia in 1999.
Speaking of the future, Pope Francis expressed a wish for even greater peace and forgiveness between people and regions.
“May difficulties not be an obstacle, but rather a stimulus to know each other better,” he said, “to share the vital sap of the faith, to intensify our prayers for each other and to cooperate with apostolic charity in our common witness, to the glory of God in heaven and in the service of peace on earth.”
The Georgian Orthodox Church was one of the four Eastern Orthodox Churches which declined to participate in the ‘pan-Orthodox Council’ organized by the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople which was held in June.
The Church also objected to an ecumenical document agreed to earlier this month by the Joint International Commission for Theological Dialogue between the Orthodox and Catholic Churches which regarded synodality and primacy during the first millennium.
Noting how the Georgian people love to celebrate, Francis said this joy has its roots in the faith, “which leads Georgians, when gathered around their tables, to invoke peace for all, and to remember even one’s enemies.”
“Joined to their exaltation of love, friendship is given a special place,” he said.
“I want to be a genuine friend to this land and its beloved people, who do not forget the good they have received and whose unique hospitality is intimately united to a way of living that is full of true hope, even though there is no shortage of difficulties.”
After his encounter with Ilia II, Pope Francis had a meeting with the Assyrian and Chaldean Catholic communities of Georgia at the Chaldean parish of St. Simon Bar Sabbae.
There, he offered a prayer for many different things, including that by Christ’s glorious passion, he may “conquer the hardness of our hearts, imprisoned by hatred and selfishness.”
The Holy Father prayed for persecuted Christians, those who are abused, and for refugees. He also prayed for all those harmed by war, asking especially that “the peoples so wearied by bombing” experience the joy of Christ’s resurrection, and that Iraq and Syria will be raised up from “devastation.”