We are now bringing this blog to a close. We wish all our readers a very good evening. Our coverage of the Caucasus region will continue on our regular posts on commonspace.eu.
As the Pope prepares to leave the Caucasus at the end of three very eventful days we are bringing this blog to a close. In their different ways the Pope's visits to Georgia and Azerbaijan marked a new engagement between different cultures and civilisations based on dialogue and mutual respect. This was the underlieng message of the Pope's visit, and the message will resonate in the region for a long time.
In Baku the Pope also met Sheikhulislam Allahshukur Pashazadeh, the Chairman of the Board of Caucasian Muslims
The full text of the Pope's speech at the Heidar Aliev Centre has now been released
Vatican Radio says that the Pope praised the people of Azerbaijan for their good relations between Catholic, Muslims, Orthodox and Jewish communities in the country. He expressed his hope that the signs of friendship and cooperation may continue to increase and said they lay the path for peace in the world.
“These good relations assume great significance for peaceful coexistence and for peace in the world, and they demonstrate that among the followers of different religious confessions cordial relations, respect and cooperation for the good of all are possible” he said.
The Pope also said “the attachment to authentic religious values is utterly incompatible with the attempt to violently impose on others one’s own vision, using God’s holy name as ‘armour’”.
And he appealed to all so that faith in God may be “a source and inspiration of mutual understanding and respect, and of reciprocal help, in pursuit of the common good of society”.
You can read the speech in full here
In Baku, the Pope is now at Heydar Mosque, meeting Sheikh-ul Islam and Grand Mufti of the Caucasus, Allahshukur Pashazadeh.
Warm applause and standing ovation for the Pope from President Aliev and the guests present at the Heidar Aliev Centre.
The Pope is making a number of references to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, in somewhat nuanced terms. He is calling for "sustained negotiations" to resolve disputes and conflicts. He referred to the suffering of those displaced by conflict and called for peace in the Caucasus. The Pope called for harmony, within and between nations.
The Pope is also making reference to those who invoke the name of God to impose their will on others.
The Pope is now at the Heidar Aliev Centre in Baku where he is addressing civil and religious leaders and members of the diplomatic corps.
Pope Francis is now at the Alley of the Martyrs in Baku, where those who died in the struggle against the Soviet occupation are buried. Visits to such places do not always occur during Papal visits, but after having visited the genocide memorial in Yerevan, this one was probably inevitable
Apart from being the head of the Roman Catholic Church, the largest Christian church, with more than 1.27 billion members worldwide, the Pope is also the head of the Vatican State, and as such deals with other Heads of State in that capacity too.
Pope Francis and president Aliev are meeting at the Presidential residence in the district of Ganclik, on the outskirts of Baku
A light moment as the Pope was inspecting the Guard of honour at the Presidential palace - the wind blew off his white hat, known as Zucchetto. One of the soldiers quickly brought it back to the Pope.Well after alll Baku is known as the city of wind and fire.
Pope Francis has arrived at the residence of the President of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliev where the anthems of Azerbaijan and of the Vatican State are being played.
In the meantime a flashback to a moment during the Pope's visit to Georgia yesterday which many are saying was the highlight of the visit. This was at the end of the historic meeting in Mtskheta cathedral yesterday when after the speeches of the Pope and the Patriarch Ilia II a Georgian choir sang a hymn in Amharic. The setting the symbolism, and the chanting were simply, very powerful.
Press TV got the wrong end of the stick, as this tweet shows.
There is a rather long lull in the Pope's programme in Baku. He is having a private lunch with the Salesian community. The meeting with the President is scheduled after an hour.
There has been extensive coverage in the international media of the Pope's visit to Georgia on Friday and Saturday. Most stories report on the presence of a small group of Orthodox protesters who were against the Pope's visit. But Reuters has picked up on an unprepared comment that the Pope made during his visit to Tbilisi, and one that will no doubt create much controversy in the future. Reuters report says:
Pope Francis warned on Saturday of a "global war" against traditional marriage and the family, saying both were under attack from gender theory and divorce.
Francis made his comments in an impromptu response to a question at a meeting of the small Catholic community in the ex-Soviet republic of Georgia.
"You mentioned a great enemy of marriage: gender theory," the pope said in response to a woman who had asked about it being taught in schools.
He did not elaborate.
Gender theory is broadly the concept that while a person may be biologically male or female, they have the right to identify themselves as male, female, both or neither.
"Today, there is a global war out to destroy marriage," Francis said. "Not with weapons but with ideas ... we have to defend ourselves from ideological colonization."
The pope has used the phrase "ideological colonization" in the past to denounce what he says are attempts by rich countries to link development aid to the acceptance of social policies such as those allowing gay marriage and contraception.
Francis, who has been more accepting of homosexuals than his predecessors but opposes gay marriage, also appeared to be referring to it when he said "marriage is the most beautiful thing that God has created" adding that the Bible says God created man and woman to become one flesh.
In the same answer, he said the growing acceptance of divorce was another threat to the family.
Pope Francis is becoming a bit of a nightmare for vatican officials and diplomats because he has a habit of going off script and saying things that will then need to be explained in much more detail. It is not clear if these comments fall in the same category. Indeed the Pope himself is often reputed to harbour "liberal" views. But his comments on divorce and gender theory seem to be very much in line with traditional Catholic teaching.
The Irish Times is reporting about the Pope's visit to Azerbaijan. In its report the Dublin newspaper says, "Pope Francis has arrived in Azerbaijan for a day-long visit aimed at encouraging the country's multi-faith society and overlooking recent criticism of a referendum that extends the president's term and powers. Azerbaijan, the second-largest Shia Muslim nation after Iran, has a tiny Catholic population - fewer than 300 Azeris are Catholics".
The newspaper adds that "local Azeri media has not given much attention to the papal visit and many were unaware of the forthcoming Mass. But Baku's Muslim residents still welcomed Francis' visit."
The Pope is visiting Azerbaijan only a few days after the country voted in a constitutional referendum that will see the term of office of the President extended from 5 to 7 years and the appointment for the first time of Vice Presidents. Some critics of the Azerbaijan government have expressed concern that the Pope's visit is an endorsement of the authoritarian style of the current Azerbaijani government. Vatican diplomacy however see the visit as an important one in which the Pope has an opportunity to engage with a Muslim country that is open to religious tolerance, and where the small Catholic community is able to practise its faith without hinderance.
Pope Francis will only be in Azerbaijan for nine hours. At the moment he is having lunch with the Salesian community in Baku and shortly he will leave to the Presidential Palace for an official welcome ceremony, and a meeting wiht President Ilham Aliev
We wish to remind our readers that items from this blog, as well as other news and commentary from the Caucasus region is available on our twitter feed @commonspaceEU and on our facebook page CommonSpace and summarised in our weekly digest Caucasus Concise
Emphasising Azerbaijan's ethnic and religious tolerance, the mass being held at the Catholic Church in Baku during the Pope's visit is being said in a multitude of languages, including Latin, Azerbaijani, Turkish, Russian, English and Italian
Pope Francis visited Armenia in June. You may read about that visit in the blog we ran at the time here on commonspace.eu
The Caucasus is a region still suffering from unresolved conflicts. Azerbaijan remains locked in conflict with neighbouring Armenia. A reminder of this are the daily incidents on the line of contact. The spokesperson of the Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry tweeted this morning about ceasefire violations during the papal visit
We want to reflect back on the Pope's visit to Georgia on Friday and Saturday. As we have been explaining on this blog the visit was far from a simple and straightforward one. We asked two of our correspondents in Tbilisi to comment.
Dato Parulava is from Georgia, and editor of a website popular among young people in Georgia called Liberali.ge. He says:
Pope Francis's visit in Georgia was dominated by the complex relationship between the Catholic churches and the Georgian Orthodox Church.
From the moment the pontiff's arrival was announced, it was unclear, whether the Patriarchy of Georgia wanted the Pope to come just as much as the President did.
Later, when some of priests and their congregation protested against the pontiff's visit, the Patriarchy issued a statement welcoming the Pope in Georgia, but interestingly, it took them a week to do so.
Union of Orthodox Priests, a group of dissident clergy called on parishioners not to let Pope in Svetitskhoveli Cathedral. They followed Pope with unwelcoming banners during his visit, but their protest was peaceful and calm. Still, such obvious disobedience to Patriarchy is not common and should not be forgotten as some of the theologian speak about their growing influence on Georgian Church.
Felix Light is a free lance journalist in the UK. He thinks that the Pope's visit to Georgia was largely aimed at inter-Church dialogue, but it also helped focus on Georgia's unresolved conflicts in Abkhazia and South Ossetia and the plight of refugees from those conflicts.
The Pope's reasons for visiting Georgia were not, at least on the surface, obvious. Georgia's Catholic community is insignificant, and the local Orthodox Church has a history of hostility to inter-church dialogue that already this century has put the brakes on diplomacy with the Holy See. That said, in visiting, Pope Francis has been able to successfully prosecute two of the principal aims of his papacy. First, in meeting Patriarch Ilia, head of one of the most conservative Orthodox churches, the Pope has furthered the rapprochement with Eastern Christianity began in Greece and Armenia this year.
Ecumenism aside, Tbilisi was a natural follow-up to April's Lesbos trip. Though lower in profile than the crisis in the Mediterranean, Georgia's own internal refugee problem, a result of the lingering conflicts in Abkhazia and South Ossetia, has been left unresolved for a quarter-century now, and so is highly relevant to a pontiff that has devoted a great deal of energy to such issues. Though the Pope's references to Georgia's internal conflicts were muted, his interest in the question will have been well received in Georgia, and a potentially difficult visit seen as a success.
The Pope's first engagement in Azerbaijan is a mass at the Catholic Church of the Immaculate Conception in Baku.
We have first pictures of the Pope's arrival in Baku, here being greeted by the deputy Prime Minister of Azerbaijan at Heidar Aliev Airport
Commonspace.eu political editor has commented on the significance of Pope Francis visit to Azerbaijan
Azerbaijan is a secular republic, but the population are predominantly Shia Muslims. Religion was largely oppressed during the Soviet period but there was a religious revival after the collapse of communism. The President and government of Azerbaijan pride themselves in the country's religious tolerance. Religious groups of all creeds operate in the country with a high degree of freedom. Azerbaijan has taken the lead on the world stage to promote dialogue between cultures and civilisations. This will be highlighted during the Pope's visit to this country of about ten million people.
There are also sensitivites connected to the Pope's visit here. Azerbaijan considers itself a trukic country and close ally of Turkey. Many Azerbaijanis were dissapointed that the Pope refereed to the atrocities committed against Armenians in Anatolia at the start of the 20th century characterising them as genocide - a highly sensitive issue for Turkey. Some Azerbaijanis see the Pope as being also too friendly with Armenians. Certainly the visit of the Pope there in June was highly successful. Azerbaijan is locked in aconflict with Armenia over Nagorno-Karabakh, and Armenia occupies a large chunk of Azerbaijani territory taken in the conflict of the early 1990s. Efforts to resolve the conflict peacefully have so far failed. In Azerbaijan there are also some radical muslim groups operating among both the shia muslim community and the much smaller sunni muslim community, largely located in the north of the country. The government keeps a tight hold on their activities but a number of Azerbaijanis have fught in Syria on the side of ISIS.
Azerbaijan has a much more tightly controlled political environment than Georgia and public protests against the Pope are unlikely, unless condoned by the government.
09.30 Baku Time (05.30 GMT)
Pope Francis has now arrived in Azerbaijan on the second leg of his trip to the Caucasus region. The emphasis during the visit will be on dialogue between cultures and civilisations and the motto of the trip is Pax Vobis
Carles Jovani Gil, commonspace.eu special correspondent in Tbilisi reflects on the Pope's visit:
Unlike other occasions, Pope Francis' apostolic trip to Georgia will not be remembered for the hordes of onlookers typical of Catholic-majority countries. In a society of which 80% profess Orthodox Christianity, the general apathy has served, however, to facilitate an event with a remarkable political background. The visit of the Pontiff has taken place few days before a parliamentary election that will set the pace for reforms in the coming years and, in the US, amidst a presidential campaign whose results could alter the role the Caucasian republic has played for the West since the end of the Cold War. The presence of the Holy Father and his progressive discourse has also raised the hackles of the most conservative sectors of the local Church. Although Patriarch Ilia II has publicly stated his will to strengthen dialogue, the absence of Orthodox clergy in the mass celebrated yesterday in the Meskhi stadium gives a glimpse of its internal fault lines. That the Pope might make reference to the territorial disputes and the situation of IDPs had also been subject of speculation in the past few weeks. Ultimately, Francis has appealed for respect for international law, a formal gesture which has allowed him to escape a political tight spot without antagonizing Moscow. By way of conclusion, the Holy See has been able to save a delicate visit to Georgia by deploying a low-profile strategy in a highly sensitive area. For its part, in a context of increasing uncertainty, Tbilisi has managed once again to portray itself as a bridge between cultures and an indispensable actor for the stability in the Caucasus.
The visit of Pope Francis to Georgia over the last two days marks an important step in Papal and religious diplomacy. Vatican diplomacy has had to navigate around a complex situation within the Georgian Orthodox Church whose leader, the Catholicos Patriarch Ilia II is much respected in the country, but which is considered among the most conservative of the world Orthodox churches. The Pope was given a very warm welcome by the leadership of the Orthodox Church, as well as the Georgian state. but some small elements within the Church refused to do so, and others openly protested against the Pope's visit.
Good Morning. it is 09.00 local time in Tbilisi and Baku and 05.00 GMT on Sunday, 2 October 2016. Welcome back to this live blog covering the visit of Pope Francis to the Caucasus countries of Georgia and Azerbaijan
19.45 Tbilisi local time, 15.45 GMT
We are now coming to a close with this live blog for today. We will be back live tomorrow Sunday, 2nd October 2016 at 0900 Tbilisi local time (05.00 GMT) with some reflections on the Pope's visit to Georgia and with reports and analysis about his visit to Azerbaijan. we wish our readers a very good evening.
This message was echoed by Pope Francis in his reply which also emphasised a message of unity - ecumenism being one of the Pope's favorite topics. The Pope said
I sincerely assure you of my prayers, so that the Lord, who makes all things new, through the intercession of the Holy Brothers and Apostles Peter and Andrew, of the Martyrs and of all the Saints, may deepen the love between all believers in Christ and the enlightened pursuit of everything which brings us together, reconciles us and unites us. May fraternity and cooperation increase at every level! And may prayer and love make us ever more receptive to the Lord’s ardent desire, so that everyone who believes in Him, through the preaching of the Apostles, will “be one”
Read the full text of the Pope's speechat Mtskheta Cathedral here
The Georgian Patriarchate has just released the full text of the speech of Patriarch Ilia II at Mtskheta Cathedral. The Patriarch highlights the symbolism of the venue, saying"Torrents of blood and tears have been shed here as Georgia was constantly the arena of invasions; however, this small oasis of Christianity has survived having maintained its identity, but at the cost of the heaviest sacrifice". The Patriarch's speech ended with a wish for unity, "May God’s will unify Christians on the foundation of the true faith". Read the full speech here
The bells of Mtskheta Cathedral are ringing as Pope Francis land Patriarch Ilia II leave the Cathedral at the end of a moving ceremony during which both religious leaders emphasised a message of peace and brotherhood. This was the last public event of the Pope before heleaves Georgia for Azerbaijan tomorrow morning.
Commonspace.eu political editor commented on the visit:
The visit of Pope Francis to Georgia was never going to be an easy one, even for the experienced Pontiff. Georgia's Catholic community is tiny, and the Georgian Orthodox Church is one of the more traditional Churches within the Orthodox tradition. This visit would not have been possible had the Patriarch Ilia II not wanted it. During the visit the Patriarch has shown that his invitation to the Pope last April was not simply a formal act, but a genuine desire to welcome to Georgia the leader of the Catholic Church. The few radicals who protested against the Pope's visit did not manage to spoil the occasion. They protested peacefully, and most of the time in silence, prefering to wave slogans rather than shout them. Yet they reflect a wider debate in Georgian society, that between tradition and modernity. Most Georgians are comfortable embracing both, but a few, on both sides of the spectrum think that they need to choose one against the other.
During the Pope's visit the great beauty of Georgia, the richness of its history and the complexity of its society, were all on display. This visit by a reformist Pope, to a country that has embraced reforms eagerly in recent years has contributed to making Georgia better known in the world, and has been an important step in the process of dialogue between cultures and religions.
These historic pictures of the leader of the Catholic Church being received at Mtskheta Cathedral by the Catholicos of all Georgians send a very powerful message, not only of Christian solidarity but also of the resolve of the two leaders to work for peace and brotherhood across cultural and civilisational divides
An overview of the current scene at Mtskheta Cathedral where Pope Francis has been warmly welcomed by the Catholicos of All Georgia Ilia II in pictures coming from Georgian Public TV (Channel One) which has covered fully all the events of the Papal visit.
Pope Francis, is replying to the Patriarch's speech, refering to the richness of the Georgian language
Patriarch Ilia II is held in very high esteem in Georgian society. Consistently he is rated as the most respected person in Georgian public life in opinion polls. Although the Patriarch is of an advanced age, he remains fully engaged with leading the Georgian Orthodox Church, often attending long religious ceremonies. His warm welcome for the leader of the Catholic Church, despite some opposition to this within the Church is typical of his generosity. In his speech in Mskheta he expressed his deep admiration and warm welcome to Pope Francis and spoke of the unity within faith.
Pope Francis is now in Mtskheta and the Catholicos of all Georgia Ilya II is welcoming him at Mtskheta Cathedral
More images of the police presence in Mtskheta, as a small group of radical Orthodox priests and supporters show their disapproval of the Pope's visit.
The same group of about fifty protestors who have been following the Pope during the visit to Georgia have now also turned up in Mtskheta, far outnumbered by policemen.The situation however is peaceful.
Commonspace.eu special correspondents Felix Light, Carles Jovani Gil and Dato Parulava are in Mtskheta awaiting the arrival of the Pope. They say there is a heavy police presence, after some radical Orthodox suggested they may try to prevent the Pope from entering the building where the next event is to take place
Pope Francis is now watching a fantastic display of Georgian folk dancing at a Catholic charitable centre in Tbilisi.
Very irritating commentary on Vatican Radio depicting Georgia as an impoverished country unfortunately mars an otherwise excellent coverage of the Papal visit.
17.30 Tbilisi local time (13.00 GMT)
We are waiting for the arrival of Pope Francis in Mtskheta
We would also like to remind our readers that Pope Francis will tomorrow pay a short visit to Azerbaijan, before returning in the evening to the Vatican. The emphasis of the visit is peace and dialogue between civilisations, and the motto of the visit is Pax Vobis - peace be with you. Our live blog will continue tomorrow from 10.00 am to 19.00 Baku time (0600-15.00 GMT) with news updates and commentary about the visit.
The meeting of Pope Francis with the clergy and lay leaders of the Catholic Community of the Caucasus has just ended and the Pope is now making his way to Mtskheta, the old capital of Georgia and the "holy city" of the Georgian Orthodox Church, for the last major event of his visit to Georgia. In the meeting with Catholic priests and leity the Pope dealt with some of the issues of faith, praising the role of the family, and the sanctity of marriage. These messages will resonate well with the Orthodox Church in Georgia which pushes similar messages.
The Pope's visit to Georgia is livestreamed here; please find regular written updates to our liveblog by commonspace.eu special correspondents below.
At Tbilisi's Catholic cathedral, the Pope is making reference to a 'war' being fought against traditional marriage by certain 'ideas'.
The Pope is about to deliver a set of unprepared remarks to the gathering of local Catholics at Tbilisi's Catholic cathedral.
Pope Francis is meeting local Catholic personnel at Tbilisi's Catholic cathedral. Many speakers have made reference to the benefits of ecumenism, especially relevant for Catholic clergy in an overwhelmingly Orthodox country.
The head of the Armenian Catholic Church in Georgia is paying tribute to the tolerance and acceptance that Armenian Catholics find in Georgia.
In an interview with Vatican Radio, the Pope's Press Director, Greg Burke, expressed optimism at prospects for inter-church relations in light of the visit. According to Mr Burke, at a private tea between Pope and Patriarch, conversation veered slightly 'off-script', when the Patriarch said 'may God bless the Church of Rome'. This, said Burke, spoke to a great deal with goodwill between the churches, regardless of the 'complicated situation' surrounding the visit.
Burke also made reference to the Chaldean community's role in the visit, noting that a papal visit to that community's Iraqi and Syrian homelands is impossible, but that the Caucasus visit might serve instead to draw attention to the sufferings of a branch of the Church dear to Pope Francis' heart. The special significance of hearing prayers in the Chaldeans' Aramaic tongue, the language of Christ, at the church of Shemon Bar Sabbae in Tbilisi was not, said Burke, lost on the pontiff.
For the Georgian Orthodox Church, hosting the Pope on home turf has been a difficult and complex undertaking for a Church with an influential conservative, and anti-ecumenical faction to manage. At the Pope's public Mass this morning, attended by Georgia's political and diplomatic elite, up and to including President Margvelashvili himself, the senior Orthodox hierarchy were conspicuously absent, an absence noted with disappointment by Georgia's ambassador to the Holy See, Orthodox theologian Tamar Grdzelidze, reports Vatican correspondent Alan Holdren:
The city of Mtskheta, and Svetitskhoveli Cathedral in particular, have a great deal of significance to the Georgian Orthodox Church. The cathedral, built in 1029 on ground occupied by religious structures since the 4th century, is reputed to be the burial place of Christ's mantle. In 2014, the Orthodox Church declared Mtskheta Georgia's 'holy city'. As such, a visit to Mskheta is an obvious choice for the pontiff.
Svetitskhoveli Cathedral, Mtskheta, Wikimedia Commons
We have received word that dissident Orthodox priests intend to bar the door of Svetitskhoveli Cathedral in Mtskheta to the Pope, in an attempt to prevent the pontiff from entering the chief seat of the Georgian Orthodox Church. We will be reporting directly from Mtskheta this afternoon on any such attempts.
The demonstrators have stressed that all protests against the pontiff will be peaceful. One involved priest commented that 'we must attempt to stop him from gaining access to the Cathedral. However, should he enter, it will be by God's will and our own weakness and sin.'
This afternoon, the Pope will meet local Catholic clerics, seminarians and pastoral workers at Tbilisi's Catholic Cathedral of the Assumption. Built between 1805 and 1808, the cathedral occupies a site that has seen Catholic houses of worship since 1240. It now serves as the seat of the Latin Apostolic Administration of the Caucasus, the headquarters of the Catholic Church in the region.
A particular point of contention for the Orthodox protesters is the doctrine of papal infability; literature distributed outside takes exception to the Pope's position in the Catholic Church whilst highlighting scandals around sexual abuse and paedophilia in the Catholic Church.
In any case, a heavy police presence saw the protests pass peacefully, with the demonstrators having dispersed by the end of the Mass.
Commonspace.eu's special correspondents, Dato Parulava and Carles Jovani Gil, have returned from the Pope's Mass at Meskhi stadium. Outside, as has become customary on this visit, demonstrated calling themselves the Union of Orthodox Parents were to be found protesting the Holy Father's visit.
Georgian-language leaflets distributed outside rued that 'most Orthodox parishioners do not understand how deadly Catholicism is to Orthodox Georgia', referring to the Pope has 'the Devil' and 'Anti-Christ'. These protestors have expressed their intent to protest the pontiff anywhere and everywhere throughout his Georgian sojourn, and kicked off the protests with a march outside the Vatican's embassy in Tbilisi on September 21st.
The Pope is now preparing to depart the stadium, greeting President Giorgi Margvelashvili, whose multisyllabic name posed severe challenges to the Vatican Radio English-language announcer, on his way out.
With the stadium Mass concluded, the Pope will prepare to visit, at 3:45pm Tbilisi time (12:45pm GMT), the Catholic Cathedral of the Assumption in Tbilisi. There he will meet pastoral workers, clerics and seminarians, before proceeding on to the church's charitable centre, and then the seat of the Georgian patriarchate in Mtskheta.
The Pope is now paying tribute to Caucasian Christians of all stripes; the Chaldean, Armenian Apostolic, and, of course, Georgian Orthodox churches have been mentioned by the Holy Father in his closing address.
At the Meskhi stadium mass, Catholic laypeople, from Georgia and further afield, have been taking the stage to address congregants.
On the ground in Georgia, public television, Channel 1, is airing the Pope's Mass live, whilst commercial and political television is laying off. That said, the Pope's arrival yesterday received saturation coverage across the local media.
The pontiff is now referring to the need to expand outside a 'closed ecclesiastical micro-environment' - perhaps a reference to the ecumenism that has proved so controversial in Catholic relations with the Georgian church, and that has been a central theme of Pope Francis' tenure at the Vatican.
The Pope is now paying tribute to the women of Georgia at his service at the Meskhi stadium. He specifically invokes Saint Nino, a female saint reputed to have originally brought Christianity to Georgia in the 4th century.
Commonspace.eu special correspondents Carles Jovani Gil and Dato Parulava are at the stadium. They report that this morning some anti Pope leaflets in Georgian have been distributed. This is however in no way marring the solemnity of the holy mass ceremony which is being celebrated in Latin.
This morning the Pope is celebrating mass at Mikeil Meskhi stadium in Tbilisi where Catholics from Georgia and from other parts of the region have gathered. There is a sizeable crowd in the stadium, but since the Catholic Community in Georgia is quite small there are also plenty of empty seats. Among those attending the mass is the President of Georgia, Giorgi Marghvelashvili.
Pope Francis has received a warm welcome in Georgia from both the civic and religious authorities, as well as generally from the Georgian people. A group within the conservative Orthodox establishment has however been protesting the Pope's visit, appearing already in several places where the Pope has visited, holding silent vigils and anti-papal posters. These protests have been completely peaceful, but there has been a heavy police presence just in case.
Pope Francis arrived in Georgia on Friday (30 September) at 3.00 and was welcomed at the airport by President Margvelashvili and the Patriarch of Georgia Ilia II. At a ceremony at the Presidential palace shortly afterwards the Pope addressed the civil and diplomatic leaders of Georgia and spoke about the importance of peace, respect for international law and dialogue between nations. The Pope afterwards met with Patriarch Ilia II at the Patriarchy building in Tbilisi. In his speech there the Pope spoke about Georgia's rich history and its unique contribution to the Christian faith. Later the Pope met members of the Chaldean comunity - which included members of this community who came from far and wide.
Welcome to this live blog on the visit of Pope Francis to Georgia and Azerbaijan, a visit is full of symbolism and emotions
Good Morning, It is Saturday, 1 October 2016 - 10.00 am in Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia (0600 GMT)
And, once again, it's a wrap for tonight. Thanks for following, and we'll see you again tomorrow, for the Pope's public mass in Tbilisi and his visit to the seat of Georgian Orthodoxy in Mtskheta.
The Pope has now concluded his visit to the Chaldean church of St Shemon Bar Sabbae. As before, a number of anti-Catholic demonstrators were present, banners in tow.
The Chaldean diaspora from across Europe, Asia and North America was out in force at the Pope's visit. One party of deacons had travelled from as far aside as San Diego, California specifically to attend the service. They will accompany the pontiff to Mtskheta tomorrow, before moving on to Moscow. This particular group were only the furthest flung of a large influx of Chaldeans to Tbilisi, including 13 Iraqi bishops.
More about the Pope's speech at the Presidential palace earlier this afternoon.
Describing Georgia as a "natural bridge between Europe and Asia," that for centuries has facilitated "communication and relations" between peoples of diverse cultures, the Pope observed that 25 years have passed since Georgia's independence was proclaimed. During that time, and "at great sacrifice," he noted, Georgia built and strengthened its democratic institutions seeking "to guarantee the most inclusive and authentic development possible."
He expressed his hope that all sectors of society would work towards peace and development so as "to create conditions for stability, justice and respect for the rule of law" in order to promote "greater opportunities for all."
Next, the Pope will proceed to the Chaldean Catholic church of St Shemon Bar Sabbae, to meet with local leaders of the Chaldean community, alongside many more flying in from the Chaldean diaspora globally. The church's hierarchy has decamped from its mid-September synod in Erbil, Iraq, in order to accompany the Pope to Georgia. Many more Chaldean clerics and laypeople have arrived from Europe and America, too.
At the Patriarchal Palace, Patriarch Ilia II welcomes the Pope to Georgia, making reference in his remarks to a range of issues, including globalization and the Russian-occupied territories of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. The Patriarch opined that while 'mankind has progressed in science and culture, there has been regress in terms of spirituality and faith', before moving onto the question of Georgia's internal refugees from ethnic conflict. 'Almost 500 000 people', the Patriarch reminded a pontiff famed for the energy he devotes to refugee issues, 'are internally displaced.' 'Abkhazia and Tskhinvali [South Ossetia], ancient Georgian lands, are occupied', he continued.
In his address at the presidential palalce the Pope speaks about the contribution of the Catholic Church to Georgian society and says that the Church will actively co-operate in the development of Georgia and work with its authorities and civil society. The Pope ends his speech with a prayer, "May God bless Georgia and give her peace and prosperity".
In his reply Pope Francis recalls the rich history of Georgia. He speaks about the "sovereign rights of every country within the framework of international law" and appeals for "peaceful co-existence between nations". This is likely to be the closest the Pope will come to supporting the principle of territorial integrity of Georgia.
"The way of Georgia is the way of peace, collaboration and patience", said President Margvelashvili in his address of welcome to Pope Francis
The Pope is now at the Presidential Palace in Tbilisi where an official ceremony with diplomatic and government leaders is taking place.
15.00 Tbilisi time/ 11.00 GMT
Pope Francis has arrived in Georgia. The Pope was met at Tbilisi airport by Georgian President Giorgi Margvelashvili and the Catholicos Patriarch of All Georgians Ilia II
The small group of priests and supporters protesting near Tbilisi airport, demonstrating against the arrival of Pope Francis in Georgia, are quite vocal despite the fact that there are not more than twenty of them. One of the priests told our correspondent that the Pope "has come here to preach and those who are not strong in faith might be seduced into converting. It was the president who invited him, not the patriarch. The president placed the patriarch in an awkward situation because no one in the Georgian Church wanted him here. We will hold demonstrations wherever we can, barring the Presidential and Patriarchal palaces". It is to be noted that the Georgian Patriarchate in a statement issued earlier this week strongly criticised the protestors and called their protests unacceptable.
There is a small anti Pope demonstration on the airport road, awaiting the arrival of Pope Francis in Georgia. Our special correspondents Felix Light and Dato Parulava are on the spot and they have sent us the first pictures.
Pope Francis has tweeted on his visit
Today I leave for Georgia and Azerbaijan. Please accompany me with your prayers so we can sow peace, unity and reconciliation together.— Pope Francis (@Pontifex) September 30, 2016
Commonspace.eu political editor has commented on the political significance of Pope Francis' visit to Georgia and Azerbaijan. Georgia has parliamentary election in on week's time and Azerbaijan has just had an important constitutional referendum. It is unusual for such a high profile visit to take place to voting days. "Vatican diplomacy is very thorough and sophisticated, and one can only think that the decision to visit Georgia and Azerbaijan so close to sensitive ballots indicates that the Vatican thinks the visit to the two countries is important enough to justify the risks. The Pope visited Armenia in June. The Vatican hopes that the papal visits to the South Caucasus will highlight the importance of the region and the need for peace and dialogue".
You can read the commentary here
The visit of Pope Francis to Georgia follows the State visit of Georgian President Giorgi Marghvelashvili to the Vatican in April
Tengiz Pkhaladze, President's adviser for foreign affairs pointed out the importance of pope's visit in Georgia.
"The Pope's visit is exceptionally important for Georgia. The relations between Vatican and Georgian have been developing quite dynamically. Since the recovery of Independence of Georgia, we have always felt the support of Vatican on international arena. We need to emphasize few important facts from this visit: Firstly it is the exceptional support in non-recognition of occupied territories of Georgia, respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity. This is crucially important to us. And the second is, pointing out the role of Georgia as of the oldest Christian state on international arena. Pope's visit is increasingly important message for strengthening peace and stability in the region', said Pkhaladze.
Though the Georgian Catholic community is small, there are a number of outstanding issues that complicate its relationship with the dominant Orthodox faith.
The Georgian Orthodox Church frowns on inter-faith marriages, having recently abolished an exemption that allowed for religiously mixed unions if couples agreed to raise future children as Orthodox. As such, these couples will often find themselves unable to marry religiously.
In Samtske-Javakheti, the heartland of Georgian Catholicism, an ongoing dispute over ownership of 6 once-Catholic churches, repurposed by local Orthodox priests amidst the turmoil of the years leading up to independence in 1991, still further vexes inter-faith relations. Local Catholic priests and parishioners demanded the return of the churches, several of which have seen their architecture modified to fit Orthodox standards. The church requisitions were a product of the late Soviet period, when at one point there were as few as two Catholic priests in Georgia. With an ongoing religious revival bringing fresh clerics to Georgia, local Catholics have tried to recover their religious heritage.
When he lands this afternoon, Pope Francis will be met by President Margvelashvili, the first lady and Patriarch Ilia II at Tbilisi International Airport.
Press Secretary to the Patriarch, Michael Botkoveli told Commonspace.eu that Ilia II will not accompany the pontiff to the Presidential Palace, but will host him in the Palace of the Patriarch later in the day.
We noted a little earlier that Georgia's ambassador to the Holy See, the theologian Dr Tamara Grdzelidze, had described relations between the Catholic and Orthodox churches in Georgia as 'difficult'. Though Georgia is formally secular, the special position of the Orthodox Church is enshrined in law in a country that has seen a major religious revival in the 25 years since independence.
Likewise, although the church hierarchy is keen to welcome a Pope who has invested a great deal of time and energy in fostering relations with the Orthodox world, elements of the priesthood and laiety are hostile to what they see as infringement by religious outsiders of Orthodoxy's pre-eminence in Georgia. Previous diplomatic exchanges with the Holy See in the early 2000s have occasionally attracted ecclesiastical ire in Georgia, and fringe elements are expected to reprise their opposition to any hints of ecumenical contact between the two faiths. In recent days, a group calling itself the Union of Orthodox Parents has denounced the visit, and sympathisers are expected to stage a protest of the Holy Father's arrival in Tbilisi in the coming hours. We will be reporting any such events live.
As we reported yesterday, Georgia's Catholic population is small, with estimates ranging between 0.5 and 2.5% of the population. They are concentrated in the southern province of Samtskhe-Javakheti, and in some cases, their presence in Georgia dates back to the 13th century.
Our special correspondent, Carles Jovani Gil has been analysing reports on the Pope's visit to Georgia and Azerbaijan in the Spanish language media. He reports:
The Spanish-speaking press is giving considerable coverage to the Pope's visit to Georgia and Azerbaijan. Some sources emphasize the importance of this trip for strengthening the relations between the Catholic and Orthodox Churches, and the Christian and Muslim world. According to 20 Minutos, "it is very unlikely that the Pope will go beyond a call for peace and reconciliation" after the historic meeting with the Russian Patriarch held in La Habana at the beginning of the present year. In a new climate of détente, the Patriarch of Georgia will send a delegation to the mass the Holy Father will celebrate tomorrow in Tbilisi, a gesture that did not take place in the historic visit to the country of John Paul II in 1999.
Regarding Francis's possible reference to Nagorno Karabakh, the Spanish newspaper ABC speculates about the possibility that the Holy Father will refer in his first speech, addressed to the authorities and the diplomatic corps in Tbilisi, to international law in the framework of a call for a pacific coexistence between cultures, ethnic groups and religions. The Georgian ambassador in the Vatican, Tamara Grdzelidze, declared that she was not optimistic about the use of the term "occupation" by Pope Francis, as the Georgian government would like in reference to the Russian presence in Abkhazia and South Ossetia. It is worth remembering that the Holy Father used the term "genocide" in his recent visit to Armenia.
The event in the Catholic Chaldean church of Tbilisi will probably have a special meaning, only two days after the Supreme Pontifex noted that those responsible for the attacks in Aleppo "will be judged before God".
As we reported earlier, whilst the Pope is expected to receive a warm welcome in Georgia, some elements within the conservative Orthodox Church are not happy with the visit. Some priests and their congregation have confirmed to commonspace.eu that they intend to hold a demonstration against the Pope's visit at 14:00 PM local time.
"On Pope's way from the airport to city, we will stand in protest of his arrival. Vatican Radio has announced that the visit is apostolic, strengthening our suspicioun that the Pope is coming to preach heresy, to strengthen popery in Georgia and for proselytism. [The visit] is going to put our country and the nation in a great ordeal. May god protect us!'say the organisers
Pope Francis has just embarked on a special Alitalia Plane flying the Vatican flag which will bring him to Tbilisi.
Vatican Radio is putting its listeners in the mood for the Pope's Georgia visit, playing a full rendition of "Georgia on my mind" on its Italian Service
10.45 Tbilisi time
The Pope is expected to leave Rome shortly on his way to Tbilisi. in the mean time the Secretary of State of the Vatican, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, says Pope Francis' 3-day visit to Georgia and Azerbaijan should be viewed as a mission for peace and unity in this troubled area of the world.
Cardinal Parolin told Vatican TV that this weekend's papal trip is the final leg of a Caucasus pilgrimage that began in June with the Pope's visit to Armenia. He spoke of how Pope Francis will be visiting these two nations as "a friend" to meet its people and to promote a culture of encounter that he considers so important and whilst there will speak out in favour of peace, reconciliation and unity. Asked about some of the challenges facing Georgia, his first leg, Cardinal Parolin mentioned the issue of refugees, both those who have fled to Georgia from conflicts in the Middle East and the internally displaced who have been uprooted from their homes as a result of Georgia's conflicts with its breakaway regions.
The Georgian Orthodox Patriarchate has been resolute in its condemnation of those who have protested against the Pope's visit.On Wednesday evening (28 September) the Patriarchate issued a statement in which it reaffirmed its welcome to Pope Francis.
In its statement the Georgian Church chastised some elements of the Church that had earlier protested against the Pope's visit, declaring such protests as totally unacceptable. The statement said:
"The Patriarchate welcomes with respect the guest and hopes that his visit will contribute to deepening of multilateral relations and the strengthening of peace in the region."
10.15 (Tbilisi time)
"Difficult" is the way the Georgian Ambassador to the Vatican describes the relationship between Orthodox and Catholics in her country, in large part because of the legacy of Soviet culture which still hangs over the nation a quarter of a century after independence. At that time, she says, the Orthodox Church suddenly became independent and has been trying to act as "a national symbol" which puts the Catholic Church "in a difficult position". On the other hand, she insists, there are many examples of good relationships and good cooperation between the two Churches.
An example of this complicated relationship is the attempt of some elements within the Orthodox Church to disrupt the visit.
Commonspace.eu special correspondent Dato Parulava reports from Tbilisi:
A week before Pope Francis's arrival in Georgia an extremist group of Orthodox priests sent an unwelcoming message to the pontiff. Despite the Pope being officially invited by the Orthodox Church by protocol or by will, it seems some church-goers still feel uneasy about anything or anyone non-orthodox. On Wednesday, September 22, a few dozens of priests and their congregation held a demonstration protesting the arrival of the leader of the Catholic Church, who they say is as dangerous as Antichrist himself.
Men in black Men in black cassocks angered by Pope Francis's up-coming visit held what they call it `Standing Praying Demonstration' in front of the embassy of Vatican in Georgia. Arriving with insulting banners, the priests, members of the Orthodox Parents' Union, a group infamous for its radical ‘Christian' views, gathered in a circle to say prayers in response to "threats" they believe Pope's visit is about to bring on.
A statement protesters issued said ‘The visit of the Pope who is a heretic and a patron to homosexuals poses a great danger to Georgia'. They believe the Pope aims to humiliate Orthodox Christians and the Patriarch Ilia II
‘The Pope's personal attitude towards Orthodox Christians is visible through his words when he compares us to kittens walking on all fours unaware yet of how to stride. He calls on Christians to apologize to sexual minorities. He claims he is going to baptize Aliens. This is bizarre and dangerous', says excerpt from the statement by Orthodox Parent's Union.
Nikoloz Chkhikvadze, one of the priests who orchestrated the gathering believes that the patriarch of Georgia Ilia II was pressured by the president of Georgia Giorgi Margvelashvili.
‘He is not our guest. We don't want him here. President has been pushing patriarch constantly, saying that this is our pro-western course. I think, patriarch must not meet the pope, but since he is already invited...', says Nikoloz Chkhikvadze.
Evstate Abramishvili, a man who showed up at the demonstration with a toddler calls pope a wolf in sheep's clothing. He thinks that Pope's arrival is a form of a ‘spiritual aggression'.
‘They aim to lodge their aggressive proselytism to weaken Georgian church. Catholics have defected from verity', says Abramishvili.
When asked if so, why the patriarch would invite him in, Abramishvili points finger to the president, clarifying Ilia II meets lots of errs to convert them back on the right track.
10.05 (Tbilisi time)
Pope Francis will receive a warm welcome when he arrives in Tbilisi this afternoon. The Pope is in Georgia as guest of the Country's president Giorgi Marghvelashvili and the head of the Georgian Orthodox Church, Catholicos Patriarch of all Georgians, Ilia II
Dr Tamara Grdzelidze, an Orthodox theologian, now serving as Georgia's ambassador to the Holy See told Vatican Radio that Pope Francis "brings joy to every place he goes so I hope he'll do this in Georgia as well!" She hopes he will speak to the hearts of Georgians to help them understand the "wisdom and spiritual joy he carries with him". At the same time, she underlined the significance for the Pope to visit one of the oldest Christian countries in the world.
Read more here
It is 10.00 a.m. in Tbilisi (06.00 GMT) on Friday, 30 September.
The head of the Catholic Church will today embark on his 16th overseas trip since becoming Pope visiting Georgia and Azerbaijan.
We welcome readers to this live blog on commonspace.eu
Three commonspace.eu special correspondents - Carles Jovani Gil, Felix Light and Dato Parulava are in Tbilisi where they will be following the papal visit at close quarters, working with our editorial team in Brussels and London to bring you insights on the Pope's visits and its implications for the region.
Pope Francis is expected to leave Rome in about one hour's time and arrive in Tbilisi at 15.00 Tbilisi time (11.00 GMT).
... And it's a wrap for today! Thanks for reading - we'll be live again tomorrow from 10am Georgian time, bringing you up-to-the-minute news, context and analysis of the Pope's visit to the Caucasus. Hope to see you tomorrow!
On his second day in Georgia, the pontiff will meet priests and seminarians in Tbilisi, before visiting the seat of the Patriarchate in Mskheta, outside the capital. That evening he will proceed on to Baku, where he will meet a fresh set of political and religious leaders.
Aside from his meetings with the Chaldean community, tomorrow Pope Francis will meet President Margvelashvili at the Presidential Palace, alongside leaders of Georgia's thriving civil society, and its diplomatic corps. He will then proceed to the Palace of the Patriarchate, where he will be received by Patriarch Ilia II. In deference to the Patriarch's place at the head of the Georgian church, the Pope will be received as a head of state, rather than as a religious leader.
The Pope's visit, and especially his Mass at the Meskhi Stadium, is expected to be met with great enthusiasm from Georgia Catholics. When his predecessor, John Paul II celebrated a public mass in Tbilisi in 1999, 10000 people, perhaps 20% of all Georgian Catholics are reported to have attended. With inter-faith relations having improved considerably since, we can perhaps expect even great interest this year.
We welcome all those readers who have just joined us and are following this live blog on the visit of Pope Francis to Georgia and Azerbaijan.
Three commonspace.eu special correspondents - Carles Jovani Gil, Felix Light and Dato Parulava are in Tbilisi where they will be following the papal visit at close quarters, working with our editorial team in Brussels and London to bring you insights on the Pope's visits and its implications for the region.
We are live today until 20:00 Tbilisi time (16:00 GMT). We will resume the blog tomorrow morning at 10:00 Tbilisi time, (06:00 GMT). We hope you enjoy it as much as we will!
The Chaldeans are playing an outsized role in the pontiff's visit to Georgia. The community's persecution by ISIS in their traditional homelands in Iraq and Syria over the last two years has raised their profile considerably, and the Pope plans to use his time in Tbilisi to express solidarity with his Chaldean flock. On Friday afternoon, he will visit a Chaldean Catholic church in Tbilisi, to meet with the local community. Meanwhile, 13 Chaldean bishops are flying in from their synod in Erbil, Iraqi Kurdistan to accompany the Pope in his celebration of Georgia's importance as a safe haven for the Chaldean diaspora.
By contrast, Georgian Catholics are a small minority. There is some dispute as to the precise size of the community, with estimates ranging between 0.5 and 2.5% of the population. Georgian Catholics are concentrated in the southern province of Samtske-Javakheti, and in Tbilisi. Aside from native Georgians, a certain portion of local Catholics are emigres from the Chaldean Catholic diaspora, Assyrians with origins in present day Iraq and Syria.
Georgia is overwhelmingly Orthodox, and the Patriarch, and his church are exceptionally popular and influential at home. 84% of Georgians identify as Orthodox, and opinion polls regularly cite the church as the most influential institution in Georgia. Last year, the Patriarch registered an 87% approval rating, comparing favorably to President Margvelashvili's 52%.
Relations between the Catholic and Georgian churches have historically been fraught. In 2003, the Georgian church hierarchy effectively vetoed a concordat with the Vatican for which the Shevardnadze government had been pushing. At the time, Patriarch Ilia II noted that legal status for Catholicism in his overwhelmingly Orthodox country 'cannot be considered expedient'.
This year, however, the Patriarch has denounced the activities of an anti-papal protest group calling itself the League of Orthodox Parents, declaring that 'The Patriarchate welcomes with respect the guest and hopes that his visit will contribute to deepening of multilateral relations and the strengthening of peace in the region.' Time really is the perfect healer, it seems.
Pope Francis has already visited the Caucasus this year, planning a June peacemaking trip to Armenia and Azerbaijan. However, rising tensions in the disputed territory of Nagorno-Karabakh earlier this year forced him to postpone the Azerbaijani leg of the visit. He did, however, spend time in Armenia that month, where he stayed, prayed and issued a joint declaration with Catholicos Karekin II. In Georgia, inter-ecclesiastical relations are expected to be friendly, if not quite as publically ecumenical as in Armenia.
Pope Francis is the second Catholic leader to visit Georgia. Pope John Paul II visited Georgia in 1999. On that occasion he was welcomed to Georgia by the then President, the late Eduard Shevardnadze and the current leader of the Georgian Orthodox Church, Catholicos Patriarch Ilia II
16.00 Tbilisi time (12.00 GMT)
It is 16.00 in Tbilisi and 12 noon GMT. Welcome to this live blog on commonspace.eu We will be following the visit of Pope Francis to Georgia and Azerbaijan. The visit of the head of the catholic Church to the South Caucasus is full of symbolism and of great significance. The Pope travels tomorrow morning to Tbilisi. On Sunday morning he will travel to Baku before returning to Rome in the evening.
Earlier this week the Vatican described the Pope's visit as "pastoral visit focused on the theme of peace and brotherhood". The motto of the visit to Georgia is "We are all brothers". In Azerbaijan the motto of the visit is Pax Vobis (Peace to you)
Benyamin Poghosyan reflects on ongoing domestic developments in neighbouring Georgia and Azerbaijan in this op-ed