National Catholic Register

Vatican

John Paul II to Visit Republic of Georgia

BY Jim Cosgrove

September 19-25, 1999 Issue | Posted 9/19/99 at 1:00 PM

 

VATICAN CITY—Pope John Paul II will travel to the Republic of Georgia Nov. 8–9, his second visit this year to a predominantly Orthodox country.

The Pope will stop in the former Soviet republic on his way back from India, where he plans to preside over events Nov. 5–8 to ceremonially close the Asian Synod of Bishops.

Vatican Radio reported that the Georgian government announced the papal visit Sept. 8. The government said that the Pope would meet in the capital city of Tbilisi with President Eduard Shevardnadze and Catholicos Ilia II, patriarch of the Orthodox Church of Georgia.

In May, the Pope made history when he traveled for the first time to a predominantly Orthodox country, Romania. About 65% of Georgia's 5.5 million people belong to the Georgian Orthodox Church. Catholics number just under 2% of the population.

Georgia is located in the troubled Caucasus region and borders the Dagestan area of southwestern Russia, where Russian troops have been trying to put down a rebel movement. It is a region Pope John Paul has never visited.

In August, a Vatican official held talks with Georgian government and Church officials, paving the way for the visit. But the Orthodox Church indicated some ambivalence about the timing of the trip when a spokeswoman suggested that it might be delayed until 2001 because of the fighting in the region.

Last year, the Pope made a personal overture to the country when the Vatican financed the $1.7 million construction of a hospital in Tbilisi. The Pope said it was a sign of his affection for the people, as well as an expression of Christian love.

(From combined wire services)