Tbilisi, Georgia, Sep 30, 2016 / 06:25 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Pope Francis landed in Georgia Friday, telling leaders of the former Soviet republic that peace is urgent in today’s troubled world, and can only be achieved by the pursuit of justice and mutual respect for the sovereign rights of every nation.
After landing in Georgia Sept. 30, the Pope insisted that peaceful coexistence among all peoples and states in the region “is the indispensable and prior condition” for an “authentic and enduring progress.”
“This requires increasing mutual esteem and consideration, which can never lay aside respect for the sovereign rights of every country within the framework of international law,” Francis said.
He noted that in far too many places in the world, there seems to be “a dominant way of thinking which hinders keeping legitimate differences and disagreements – which can always arise – within a climate of civilized dialogue.”
Promoting dialogue based on reason, moderation, and responsibility is especially needed within the context of the current global climate, marked by violent extremism that “manipulates and distorts civic and religious principles,” subjugating them to “the dark designs of domination and death.”
In order to carve out paths that lead to lasting peace and authentic cooperation, it must be remembered that the essential elements for “a just and stable” relationship between states ought to always be at the service of “a practical, ordered and peaceful coexistence among nations,” he said.
Pope Francis spoke to members of the Georgian diplomatic corps and civil society after arriving having a private meeting with Georgian president Giorgi Margvelashvili shortly after arriving at the International Airport of Tbilisi Sept. 30.
Tbilisi is the Pope’s first stop during his official Sept. 30-Oct. 2 visit to Georgia and Azerbaijan. Expected to largely focus on the topics of peace and interreligious dialogue, the trip is seen as a conclusion of his Caucasus tour, following his visit to Armenia in June.
In addition to Georgia’s president, upon his arrival Pope Francis was also greeted by His Holiness and Beatitude Ilia II, Catholicos and Patriarch of All Georgia, spiritual leader of the Georgian Orthodox Church.
Though Francis didn’t explicitly mention it, his words allude to the Russian occupation of the partially-recognized states of Abkhazia and South Ossetia since the Russo-Georgian War of 2008.
According to news agency Aljazeera, although Abkhazia and South Ossetia declared their own independence from Georgia soon after the war, only a few nations, including Russia, recognize it. The majority of the international community, including the United States and the European Union, consider the territories to be occupied, and have condemned Russia’s military presence.
In his speech, Pope Francis also made reference to the roughly 300,000 persons internally displaced in Georgia as a result of the 2008 war.
He stressed that wholehearted priority must be given to human persons in their current circumstances, and that “every attempt to prevent differences from giving rise to violence that can cause ruinous calamity for people and for society” must be pursued.
“Far from being exploited as grounds for turning discord into conflict and conflict into interminable tragedy, distinctions along ethnic, linguistic, political or religious lines can and must be for everyone a source of mutual enrichment in favor of the common good,” he said.
Francis emphasized the need to allow for everyone to peacefully coexist in their homeland, “or freely to return to that land, if for some reason they have been forced to leave it.”
“I hope that civil authorities will continue to show concern for the situation of these persons, and that they will fully commit themselves to seeking tangible solutions, in spite of any unresolved political questions,” he said.
Pope Francis noted that due to its geographical location, Georgia can be seen as a natural bridge between Europe and Asia, calling the country a link that facilitates communication and relations between peoples.
He noted how just 25 years have passed since Georgia’s independence was proclaimed. The country held a referendum in March 1991, making them the fourth Soviet republic to organize such a vote on the topic of independence, ultimately leading to their liberation from Soviet rule.
During the period since Georgia has regained its liberty, the country has “built and strengthened its democratic institutions and sought ways to guarantee the most inclusive and authentic development possible,” he said, but noted that this came as a result of “great sacrifice.”
The Pope voiced his hope that Georgia’s ongoing path of peace and development would continue to advance with a firm commitment from all sectors of society to fostering conditions of stability, justice and respect for the rule of law, “hence promoting growth and greater opportunities for all.”
Pointing to the longstanding presence of the Catholic Church in the country, the Pope said the Church shares in the both the joys and concerns of the Georgian people, and is committed to contributing to “the well-being and peace of the nation” through active cooperation with authorities and civil society.
“It is my ardent desire that the Catholic Church may continue to make its own authentic contribution to the growth of Georgian society, thanks to the common witness to the Christian tradition which unites us, its commitment to those most in need, and the renewed and strengthened dialogue with the ancient Georgian Orthodox Church and the other religious communities of the country.”
After his speech to Georgia’s authorities and diplomatic corps, Pope Francis will have an audience with Ilia II, which will be followed by an ecumenical prayer service with Georgia’s Assyrian and Chaldean Catholic communities at the Catholic Chaldean Church of St. Simon Bar Sabbae.