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Pope Francis Holds Stadium Mass In Tbilisi


Pope Francis releases a dove as a symbol of peace during a meeting with the Chaldean community at the Catholic Church of St. Simon Bar Sabbae in Tbilisi on September 30.

Pope Francis held a stadium Mass in Tbilisi on the second day of a weekend trip to the Caucasus that is focused on preaching religious tolerance and peace.

In his homily on October 1, Francis urged Catholics to find consolation in God and not be "saddened by the lack of harmony around us."

The Georgian Orthodox Church decided not to send an official delegation to the Mass at Mikheil Meskhi Stadium, saying that Orthodox faithful cannot participate in Catholic services.

Orthodox patriarchate spokeswoman Nato Asatiani said the delegation had stayed away "by mutual agreement" with the Vatican.

Georgia is overwhelmingly Orthodox Christian but has a 2.5 percent Catholic minority, according to Vatican estimates.

Upon his arrival in Tbilisi on September 30, Francis met with Georgian President Giorgi Margvelashvili and called for the respect of international law and the sovereign rights of nations.

His remarks, though measured, were seen as implicit criticism of Russia, which keeps military troops in Georgia's breakaway Abkhazia and South Ossetia regions.

On October 2, Francis will fly to Baku and hold Mass at the Salesian-run Church of the Immaculate Conception.

Later, he will visit a monument to those who died in the struggle for independence and meet with government leaders.

The pope's visit to Azerbaijan will end with a series of interreligious meetings, including one with the sheikh of Muslims in the Caucasus at the Heydar Aliyev mosque.

Based on reporting by dpa