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Georgia: Pope Arrives For Historical Visit


Tbilisi, 8 November 1999 (RFE/RL) - Pope John Paul today opened a two-day, 30-hour visit to Georgia, his first to the Caucasus. The Pope was greeted at the Tbilisi airport by President Eduard Shevardnadze and the patriarch of the Georgian Orthodox Church, Ilya II. Our RFE/RL correspondent in Tbilisi said Shevardnadze told the pope his visit marked "a historic day for Christianity in the Caucasus." In response, the Pope paid tribute to human perseverance in overcoming communism. He said communism was "an atheistic ideology that sought in vain...to eliminate the religious faith of the people." The purpose of the trip, his second to a mostly Orthodox country this year, is to improve relations with the Orthodox church. Our correspondent says some bishops and priests are concerned about possible conversions to Catholicism.

The Pope's schedule today includes a meeting with Patriarch Ilya and a visit to the ancient Georgian capital of Mtskheta. Tomorrow, he celebrate a mass at a Georgian sports stadium to be followed by a meeting with Shevardnadze.
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