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Saturday, October 1, 2016

Visiting in the Patriarchal Cathedral

At 5:45pm today, the Holy Father, Pope Francis travelled by car to Mtskheta where he paid a visit to the Patriarchal Cathedral of Svetitskhoveli, the spiritual centre of the Georgian Orthodox Church.

Upon his arrival, at 6:15pm, the Pope was welcomed by His Holiness and Beatitude, Ilia II, Patriarchal Catholicos of all Georgia, who accompanied him to the Saint Sidon building where, according to tradition, the Saint was buried with the precious robe of the crucified Christ.  Then, two votive candles were lit.  Inside the Cathedral, the Holy Father met with religious and civil authorities as well as representatives of the Diplomatic Corps and individuals from the world of academics and culture.

Following a word of greeting offered by the Patriarch, Pope Francis shared the following greetings.

Address of His Holiness and Beatitude, Illia II
inside the Patriarchal Cathedral in Mskheta (Georgia)

Your Holiness, Pope Francis,
Your Excellency, Mister Prime Minister,
Distinguished Authorities and Representatives of the Diplomatic Corps,
Dear guests,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

We once again wholeheartedly greet you in the most ancient and important cathedral of the Church of Georgia Svetitskhoveli. This cathedral bears a special significance since it is a place of outstanding sanctities: the mantle of Saint Elijah the Prophet is here and the greatest of sanctities of the world – the Tunic of our Lord Jesus Christ – is in the cathedral, it was committed to the earth with one of the earliest saints, Sidonia.

Saint Sidonia belonged to a remarkable family of Georgian Jews: her brother Eliezer brought the Tunic to Georgia. Here, in the town of Mtskheta, their mother, devastated by the Saviour’s sufferings, on the day of His Crucifixion on Great Friday, died, and after her death, the Church of Georgia consecrated her also as a saint.

We are in the cathedral where down from the ancient times chrism has been sanctified, where kings of Georgia were crowned, and where catholicos patriarchs were enthroned and in this day they’ve been enthroned in this cathedral. This is also the place of the entombment of kings and foremost hierarchs.

The very first church in this place was built in the 4th century, and it was reconstructed into a magnificent temple in the 11th century. The Svetitskhoveli Cathedral is dedicated to the commemoration of the Twelve Apostles.

Mtskheta was the ancient capital of Georgia and to this day, has maintained the status of the spiritual centre of the country. The town and its vicinity were constructed in such a shape that it leaves an impression of another Jerusalem: Golgotha, Bethany, Gethsemane, Tabor, Eleon and other sacred places are all around this place.

Torrents of blood and tears have been shed here as Georgia was constantly the arena of invasion; however, this small oasis of Christianity has survived having maintained its identity, but at the cost of the heaviest sacrifice.

As our illustrious writer and statesman, now canonized as Saint Ilia the Righteous, writes, Christ accepted the Crucifixion for our sake and so also Georgia accepted her Crucifixion for the sake of Christ. Here, I will recall the event of the 13th century to illustrate this: 100.000 of the residents of Tbilisi were beheaded for having refused to renounce the Faith and tread on the icons of the Saviour and of the Mother of God, placed on the bridge in the vicinity of the Sioni Cathedral.

Yes, our strength was and still is in fervent prayer and devoted ministry to the True God! But what is the reason for our weakness? The lack of both of these.

I remember the admonition of the Holy Fathers of old times. The prayer of the righteous can change the very order of nature and is a shield which steadfastly defends from corporeal and incorporeal enemies; besides this, such prayer stops the right hand of the Almighty God, lifted up for the punishment of the sinful.

The true faith, humility, contrition and charity make up the shortest way towards salvation. I think, today Humankind, including us, is deficient in all of this. But God’s mercy is boundless. He waits for every step, made towards Him by us. The most important thing is to show to the Lord the heart which in righteousness judges others, the contrite heart, the heart of a prayer; when this is achieved, the reality will be different. Therefore, I, always and now also, implore the Creator that He may grant all of us His grace to cognize our own selves, to be cleansed and walk in the path of the Truth. May God’s will unify Christians on the foundation of the true faith, Amen!

Greetings of the Holy Father, Pope Francis
for the meeting in the Patriarchal Cathedral of Svetitskhoveli

Your Holiness,
Mister Prime Minister,
Distinguished Authorities and Members of the Diplomatic Corps,
Dear brother Bishops and Priests,
Dear brothers and sisters,

At the end of my pilgrimage to Georgia, I thank God for the opportunity to spend prayerful time in this holy temple. I wish to express my heartfelt gratitude for the welcome I have received, for your moving witness of faith, for the goodness of the Georgian people. Your Holiness, the words of the psalmist come to mind: Behold how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity! It is like the precious oil upon the head (Ps 133:1-2). Dear Brother, the Lord has granted us the joy of meeting one another and of exchanging a holy kiss; may he pour out upon us the fragrant balm of concord and bestow his abundant blessings upon our path, and on the path of this beloved people.

The Georgian language is rich in meaningful expressions which describe fraternity, friendship and closeness among people. There is one expression, both noble and genuine, which evokes a readiness to exchange places with another, the will to bear their burden, the desire to say wholeheartedly, I wish to be in your place (shen genatsvale). Sharing the joys and sorrows in the communion of prayer and in the union of souls, and carrying each other’s burdens (cf Gal 6:2): may this fraternal attitude mark the way ahead for our journey together.

This magnificent Cathedral, which houses so many treasures of faith and history, invites us to remember the past. This is more necessary than ever, as a people’s fall begins where its memory of the past ends (Ilia Chavchavadze, People and History, in Iveria, 1888). The history of Georgia is like an ancient book that, with each page, relates holy testimonies and Christian values which have forged the soul and culture of the country. This esteemed book, no less so, speaks to us of deeds of great openness, welcome and integration. These are most precious and enduring values, both for this land and the entire region. Such values express the Christian identity, which is maintained when deeply rooted in faith, and also when it is open and ready, never rigid or closed.

The Christian message – as this holy place recalls – has for centuries been the pillar of Georgian identity: it has given stability through so many upheavals, even when, sadly not infrequently, the fate of the nation was bitterly left to fend for itself. But the Lord never abandoned the beloved land of Georgia, because he is faithful in all his words and loving in all his deeds; he upholds all who are falling and raises up all who are bowed down (Ps 145:13-14).

The Lord’s tender and compassionate closeness is especially represented here in the sign of the sacred tunic. The mystery of the tunic, without seam, woven from top to bottom (Jn 19:23), has attracted the attention of Christians from the beginning. One of the early Church Fathers, Saint Cyprian of Carthage, declared that in the undivided tunic of Jesus there appears that bond of concord inseparably cohering, that unity which comes from above, that is, from heaven and from the Father, which could not be definitively rent (De Catholicae Ecclesiae Unitate, 7: SCh 1 [2006], 193). The holy tunic, a mystery of unity, exhorts us to feel deep pain over the historical divisions which have arisen among Christians: these are the true and real lacerations that wound the Lord’s flesh. At the same time, however, that unity which comes from above, the love of Christ which has brought us together, giving us not only his garment but his very body, urge us to not give up but rather to offer ourselves as he did (cf Rom 12:1): they urge us to sincere charity and to mutual understanding, to bind up wounds, with a spirit of pure Christian fraternity. Naturally, all this requires patience nurtured through trusting others and through humility, without fear and discouragement, but rather rejoicing in the certainty which Christian hope allows us to enjoy. This gives us the incentive to believe that differences can be healed and obstacles removed; it invites us never to miss opportunities for encounter and dialogue, and to protect and together improve what already exists. I am thinking, for example, of the current dialogue of the International Joint Commission and other propitious occasions for exchange.

Saint Cyprian stated also that Christ’s tunic – one, undivided, all in one piece, indicates the inseparable concord of our people, of us who have been clothed in Christ (De Cath., 195). Those baptized in Christ, as Saint Paul teaches, have been clothed in Christ (cf Gal 3:27). Thus, notwithstanding our limitations and quite apart from all successive cultural and historical distinctions, we are called to be one in Christ Jesus (Gal 3:28) and to avoid putting first disharmony and divisions between the baptized, because what unites us is much more than what divides us.

In this Patriarchal Cathedral, many of our brothers and sisters receive Baptism, which in the Georgian language, beautifully expresses the new life received in Christ, evoking the light which gives meaning to everything, as it leads out of the darkness. In Georgian, the word education comes from the same root, and thus relates strictly to Baptism. The elegance of the language helps us think of the beauty of Christian life that, from its radiant beginnings, is maintained when it remains in the light of goodness, and when it rejects the darkness of evil. Such beauty of the Christian life is preserved when, by guarding faithfulness to its own roots, it does not give in to closed ways of thinking which darken life, but rather remains well-disposed to welcome and to learn, to be enlightened by all that is beautiful and true. May the resplendent riches of this people be known and esteemed! May we always increasingly share the treasures that God gives to each person, for our mutual enrichment, and to help one another grow in what is good!

I sincerely assure you of my prayers, so that the Lord, who makes all things new (cf Rev 21:5), 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 (cf Jn 17:20-21).
(Original text in Italian)

At the conclusion of the meeting, before taking his leave, the Patriarch accompanied the Pope on a visit to the Cathedral's iconostasis.  Then, the Holy Father travelled by car to the Apostolic Nunciature in Tbilisi.
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