After his apostolic visit to Armenia, Francis will visit the two countries from 30 September to 2 October. The schedule includes many ecumenical meetings and talks with the Sheikh of Muslims of the Caucasus at the Heydar Aliyev mosque.
Vatican City (AsiaNews) – The Vatican Press Office on Monday released the schedule for Pope Francis’ visit to Georgia and Azerbaijan from 30 September to 2 October. It includes many ecumenical meetings, two masses and a private meeting with the Sheikh of the Muslims of the Caucasus at the Heydar Aliyev Mosque.
The three-day journey begins in the Georgian capital of Tbilisi, where the Holy Father arrives at 3 pm local time for a welcome ceremony. From there, he travels to the Presidential palace for a courtesy meeting with President Giorgi Margvelashvili, followed by an encounter with diplomats, government and civil society representatives.
Later in the day, the pope will visit the Patriarchal Palace in Tbilisi to meet with the Catholicos of the Orthodox Church in Georgia, Patriarch Elias II, and then go on to greet the Assyrian Chaldean community in the church of St Simon the Tanner.
The following day, Saturday October 1st, the pope will celebrate Mass at Mikheil Meskhi Stadium in Tbilisi. He will then meet with priests and religious at the Church of the Assumption, followed by a meeting with charity workers and members of the communities they serve outside an aid centre run by the Camillian order. In the afternoon, he will visit the Svietyskhoveli Patriarchal Cathedral in the ancient city of Mskheta.
On Sunday 2 October, the pontiff will leave for Baku. After the welcoming ceremony, Francis celebrate Mass at the Salesian centre in Baku and have lunch with the Salesian community.
In the afternoon, he will attend an official welcome ceremony at the presidential palace and pay a courtesy visit to President Ilham Aliyev. After that Francis will hold a private meeting with the Sheikh of the Muslims of the Caucasus at the Heydar Aliyev Mosque.
Before leavening, he will meet the Orthodox bishop of Baku and the president of the Jewish community.
Azerbaijan, the largest state in the Caucasus, is a predominantly Shia Muslim nation – 95% out of 9.7 million people – but there are also Orthodox and Jewish communities. Catholics only number a few hundred, and the first Catholic church was inaugurated in 2007, dedicated to the Immaculate Conception, in the capital Baku.
This apostolic journey is the second stage of his visit to the Caucasus, which began on 24 June with a trip to Armenia. The area, the pope said repeatedly, should be a crossroads of peace and instead appears to be a powder keg. The Nagorno-Karabakh conflict is the main problem as it opposes Azerbaijanis and Armenians.
During the press conference on the return trip, Francis said, " I will speak to the Azerbaijanis about the truth, of what I have seen, of what I feel. I will encourage them too. I have met the President of Azerbaijan and have spoken with him. I will also say that not making peace on account of a small patch of land – because that is all it is – means something grim . . . But I say this to all, Armenians and Azerbaijanis. Perhaps you aren’t agreed on the modalities of peacemaking, and this you have to work on.”