Orthodox delegation stays away from pope's Mass
GEORGIA, Tbilisi (AP):
Pope Francis' efforts to improve relations with the Georgian Orthodox Church suffered a public setback yesterday after the patriarchate decided not to send an official delegation to his Mass and repeated that Orthodox faithful cannot participate in Catholic services.
In the run-up to Francis' Caucasus visit, the Vatican spokesman had said the Orthodox Patriarchate would send a delegation to the Mass in a Tbilisi sports stadium "in a sign of the rapport between the two churches" suggesting that the chill that had clouded the 1999 visit of St John Paul II to Georgia had warmed slightly.
But Orthodox patriarchate spokeswoman Nato Asatiani said yesterday that the delegation had stayed away "by mutual agreement".
"As long as there are dogmatic differences between our churches, Orthodox believers will not participate in their prayers," the patriarchate said on its website, updating a previous statement.
The reversal apparently came after Francis' arrival last Friday in Tbilisi was met with protests of hard line Orthodox opposed to any ecumenical initiatives by their church.
"It's typical proselytising," said Father David Klividze, who was among about 100 people protesting outside the stadium from the hard line Union of Orthodox Parents. "Can you imagine how it would be if a Sunni preacher came to Shiite Iran and conducted prayers in a stadium or somewhere else? Such a thing could not be. Therefore, we are speaking against this."
Vatican spokesman Greg Burke said the Vatican accepted the Orthodox decision, which he said had been conveyed to the papal delegation Friday night.
Francis had been scheduled to personally greet the Orthodox delegation at the end of the Mass. Instead, Francis thanked "those Orthodox faithful" who were present.
Later yesterday, Francis insisted that Catholics must never seek to convert Orthodox, saying they are Catholics' brothers and sisters, children of the same God.