TBILISI, Georgia — Pope Francis said on Saturday that there’s a global war trying to destroy marriage, an institution which he described as God’s most beautiful creation.

“A great enemy of marriage today is the theory of gender,” Francis told a group of religious men and women and pastoral agents in Georgia.

“Today, there is a global war trying to destroy marriage… they don’t destroy it with weapons, but with ideas. It’s certain ideological ways of thinking that are destroying it…we have to defend ourselves from ideological colonization,” he said.

The pontiff was talking off the cuff, after taking down notes on the four questions posed to him by a priest, a seminarian, a married woman, and a young man.

The encounter lasted over an hour, with Francis speaking in Italian with an interpreter doing live translation into Georgian for some 250 people, including priests, religious, and seminarians, plus 140 representatives of lay pastoral councils.

Irina, mother of two children, had spoken about the challenges both Catholic and Orthodox families face in Georgia, such as globalization, which “doesn’t take into consideration the local values, the new views of sexuality as gender theory, and the marginalization of the Christian vision of life, particularly on our choice of educating our children as Catholic.”

Francis has often spoken about ideological colonization and gender theory. The first refers to developed countries- or the West- imposing ideas into developing nations, often by putting a tag on economic aid.

Gender theory or ideology instead refers to the idea that “sex” is what a person is biologically, determined by a configuration of chromosomes, hormones, reproductive units, and internal and external anatomy. Gender is what the person believes himself or herself to be.

Gender theorists say that people should be able to identify as male, female, in-between, neither or both, and discourage the stereotypical gender-based divisions, such as dolls for girls and trucks for boys.

She also had spoken with Francis about the challenge the Catholic community faces seeing that divorce is readily available for the Georgian Orthodox while not for Catholics, with many parents seeing separation as the easiest way out of a hard situation.

The pope answered saying that the Bible teaches God created man and woman in his image, thus it’s “when the two become one that his image is reflected.”

He added that even though he understands that when things become difficult, or there are “temptations,” things are resolved through the road of divorce. “You find someone, I find someone, and we’ll both begin again. Who pays? Both, but more, God pays! Because God is the one who made them one, and when they divorce they dirty what God has made.”

The pontiff insisted that children also suffer tremendously from the breakdown of a marriage, including watching their parents fight.

As he’s said many times before, the pope said that fighting within a marriage is normal, and that sometimes even plates fly. His advice was for spouses to fight as much as needed, but always to resolve issues before going to bed, to prevent “the cold war” of the morning after.

Francis also said that sometimes “the devil enters and puts another woman in front of the man who seems more beautiful, or a man in front of the woman who’s better than her husband. Ask for help immediately.”

He then gave the Church four words to help couples save a marriage: “Welcoming, accompanying, discerning and integrating.”

A seminarian had asked Francis about ecumenism, meaning inter-Christian dialogue. The pope answered saying that the abstract study of ecumenism should be left to theologians, while Catholics should instead focus  on being friends with their Orthodox neighbors.

“Be open, be a friend. ‘But I must do everything to convert them!’ There’s a great sin against ecumenism: proselytism,” he said, adding that they’re “our brothers and sisters.”

Ecumenism, he said, is being friends, walking together, doing charitable work together and praying for each other.