“Face to face” conversations with the Pope in the car, the relations with Patriarch Ilia II, the failed participation of an Orthodox delegation to the Mass in the stadium, and protesters along the streets. Follows the backstage account of Pope Francis’ visit to Georgia, seen with the eyes of Monsignor Giuseppe Pasotto, Apostolic Administrator of Catholics of Latin rite in the Caucasus.
What does the Catholic Community consider to be the most powerful message left by Pope Francis? There is more than one: the speech on the role of women, the message on the family, and at the stadium, when he said:
This is the Church that I like, a Church that is not powerful but that can give consolation.
These words are very significant for us because they see beyond what we are, beyond our mere presence. The Pope has shown us a Church that does not fall into pessimism. He showed us a Church that is dedicated to others, that moves towards them. It’s a Church that never stands idle. Don’t be pessimistic: it’s a risk that we’re exposed to sometimes, for we’re a very small community, we’re a minority. But the Pope has asked us to be a Church that is not content with daily routine but that is capable of extending her glance to the future.
Media outlets reported that some have protested against the Pope’s visit. Who were they? There was a group of people, always the same, holding the same banners. They were at the airport, standing in front of the Camillians, the Assyrian-Chaldeans, at the Orthodox Cathedral. The same people, repeating the same words: no to Vatican expansionism. No to proselytism.
And the Pope saw them. What did he say? The Pope realized our difficulty. I was in the car near him when he saw the placards and said he couldn’t understand how anyone could even think such a thing. He perceived our tiredness, but he kept saying that we have to embrace everyone.
So he started to bless them. They looked at him with surprise, as the Pope stood in front of them and blessed them.
His way of dealing with this situation was a sign the Pope was giving us which meant that we have to make all possible steps. He realized our difficulties, but he told us that ecumenism is made of small steps: to seek a point of contact instead of fighting a battle. He told us in clear terms: don’t wage a war.
What can you tell us about the relationship with Patriarch Ilia II? The Pope had a very positive encounter with the Patriarch and he told me so. He told me how good the Patriarch is. The Pope felt him close to him. And I have to say that it was the same for the Patriarch. When the Pope left, I went to greet him and I asked if he had been happy with the Pope’s visit. He hesitated, and then he said:
“I’m more than happy. I’m extremely happy that the Pope was here. Now we both pray for each other.”
You see, these are things with no particular result at human level. But I believe that we will see the fruits of these steps in the future.
The press widely reported the news about the absence of an Orthodox delegation at the Mass in the stadium. Were you disappointed? On the one hand I was. I was disappointed because until three days before I had been reassured. On the other the answer is no, because I was surprised at the mere possibility of a delegation. I considered the presence of a delegation as the most important ecumenical step in the past years. It didn’t happen. But many members of the Orthodox Church were at the stadium. And I’m a bit disappointed that the press failed to highlight it. We knew that the stadium couldn’t be full. It was huge for us alone. When we were first suggested this venue I disagreed, but we eventually accepted. We decided to run the risk. We handed out 10 thousand tickets out of 15 thousand. And that was in fact the approximate number of those present. It was a beautiful presence. Many of them were members of the Orthodox Church, enthusiastic about the visit.
How does the Catholic Community Georgia feel today? We are full of joy about this event that we have witnessed, and we feel that we are not worthy of it. But we are also responsible for it. It’s a gift, also in the light of the messages that the Pope has left us. Now we need to reflect upon those messages, study them, so as not lose anything of what we have received. The Pope spurred enthusiasm. The image he gave is that of a serene, free man, without qualms. And that is the image I had of him when I was with him.