The Pope just left Georgia, where Mrs SG and I have been for the past 5 weeks. It’s a friendly, interesting place that has, after a bit of a false start, been the most successful of the former Soviet Republics in making the transition to liberal democratic capitalism. It has an Association Agreement with the EU and is very open to Western ideas, trade and investment. Corruption was almost eliminated under President Mikheil Saakashvili, but is creeping back now, we hear.
But back to the Pope. As he does everywhere, he performed a mass at a venue that would accommodate the expected crowds – in this case a sports stadium. But only a few thousand turned up. It has been reported that the leadership of the Georgian Orthodox Church, which rejects ecumenism and has 83% of the population as followers, advised those followers not to attend.
Apparently ill-feeling engendered by the Great Schism that split Western and Eastern Christianity nearly 1,000 years ago is still strong in Georgia. The Pope was even greeted by demonstrators carrying insulting placards, written in English. According to eurasianet.org they were members of the Union of Orthodox Parents. The same source cites examples of discrimination against Roman Catholicism and other minority religions.
I feel stroppy about this because Georgia seldom gets mentioned in global news reports, and when it does it’s a pity if the news makes the country appear mean-spirited or downright stupid. I am here to tell you that a handful of religiously-inspired hate-mongers are not representative of the Georgians I have met.