Unity and division: Ecumenical realities on display at papal Mass

By Cindy Wooden

TBILISI, Georgia (CNS) — At a papal Mass focused on two female saints, the longing for Christian unity and the painful
reality of Christian division were strong undertones.

Celebrating Mass Oct. 1, the feast of St. Therese of
Lisieux, Pope Francis also praised St. Nino, a woman who evangelized Georgia in
the fourth century, is recognized as a saint by the Catholic Church and hailed
by the Georgian Orthodox as “equal to the Apostles and the enlightener of

A few thousand people — including many expatriates living and
working in Georgia — attended the morning Mass, which was celebrated in a
Tbilisi soccer stadium.

While the official theme of the pope’s visit to Georgia was
“Pax vobis” — “Peace be with you” — the caps and scarves
handed out at the Mass and worn by most in the crowd said, “Ut unum
sint,” the Latin for “that all may be one.”

The vast majority of Georgians are members of the Orthodox
Church. Catholics, including Armenians, Chaldeans and members of the Latin-rite
church, account for only about 2 percent of the population.

Vatican officials and people involved in Catholic-Orthodox
relations had hoped that Georgian Orthodox Ilia II would send an official
delegation to the Mass despite rules preventing the church’s clergy from
attending a non-Orthodox liturgy. In the end, however, no Georgian Orthodox
bishops were present.

The patriarchate had issued a statement Sept. 28 saying that
Orthodox attendance at a Catholic liturgy was not possible “as long as dogmatic
differences exist.”

“We accept their decision,” said Greg Burke, the
Vatican spokesman, who also noted that Georgian President Giorgi Margvelashvili,
a member of the Orthodox Church, was at the liturgy, as were several Armenian
Orthodox bishops.

Members of the crowd, though, represented a wide variety of different
Christian denominations, as did the choir, which melded singers from the choirs
of the Catholic parishes and the Armenian Orthodox, Baptist, Lutheran and
Pentecostal churches.

Cliff Reed, an Episcopalian who works at the U.S. embassy in
Tbilisi, brought his family to the Mass. “Everyone I talked to —
Georgians or not — asked, ‘Are you going?’ I said, ‘Yes.’ Some asked, ‘Are you
Catholic?’ I said, ‘No, but it’s the pope.'”

In his homily, Pope Francis focused on the feast of St.
Therese and a line from Isaiah from the first reading at Mass, “As a
mother comforts her child, so I will comfort you.”

The experience of loving, faithful mothers and grandmothers,
the pope said, helps believers understand the scriptural description of God.
“As a mother takes upon herself the burdens and weariness of her children,
so too does God take upon himself our sins and troubles,” he said.

“Beyond any evil we are capable of,” the pope
said, “we always remain his children; he wants to take us in his arms,
protect us and free us from harm and evil.”

The church, too, is called to be a mother, Pope Francis told
the people. But if the church is all the baptized together, then individuals
must ask themselves how they can ensure that the church is “the house of
the consolation of God.”

“Do I know how to welcome others as guests and console
those whom I see tired and disillusioned?” he asked.

Catholics cannot allow their parishes or the church to
become a “closed ecclesial micro-environment,” the pope said, but
must have the courage to reach out to others with humility and respect.

Humility is one of the keys to Christian life and a virtue
taught simply by St. Therese of Lisieux, he said. “God is not known
through grand ideas and extensive study, but rather through the littleness of a
humble and trusting heart.”

Being a child of God means living simply, relying on God and
delighting in the surprises God has in store, he said.

“Blessed are those Christian communities who live this
authentic Gospel simplicity! Poor in means, they are rich in God,” Pope
Francis said. “Blessed are the shepherds who do not ride the logic of
worldly success, but follow the law of love: welcoming, listening,

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Follow Wooden on Twitter: @Cindy_Wooden.

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