Ortho­dox del­e­ga­tion stays away from pope’s Mass

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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 Pope Fran­cis (right) greets uniden­ti­fied re­li­gious rep­re­sen­ta­tives at the end of a Mass in Tbil­isi’s sta­dium, Ge­or­gia, yes­ter­day.

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

IIran 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.

WIL­HELM

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