Pope's trip to Georgia, Azerbaijan to feature politics and outreach

Pope’s trip to Georgia, Azerbaijan to feature politics and outreach

Pope’s trip to Georgia, Azerbaijan to feature politics and outreach

Pope Francis delivers his blessing during the Angelus noon prayer he celebrated from the window of his studio overlooking St. Peter's Square, at the Vatican, Sunday, July 10, 2016. (Credit: AP Photo/Andrew Medichini.)

VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis will meet with Christian, Muslim and Jewish leaders during his Sept. 30-Oct. 2 trip to the former Soviet republics of Georgia and Azerbaijan, adding a strong inter-religious dimension to an already politically delicate trip. The Vatican on Monday released the itinerary for the Caucasus trip,

VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis will meet with Christian, Muslim and Jewish leaders during his Sept. 30-Oct. 2 trip to the former Soviet republics of Georgia and Azerbaijan, adding a strong inter-religious dimension to an already politically delicate trip.

The Vatican on Monday released the itinerary for the Caucasus trip, which was originally planned as an extension of Francis’ recent visit to Armenia but was split up.

In Georgia, after meeting with the president, Francis will call on the spiritual leader of the Georgian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Ilia II, and meet with the Assyrian and Chaldean Catholic community.

In majority-Muslim Azerbaijan, Francis will celebrate Mass with the tiny Catholic community and meet with the region’s chief imam, the Orthodox bishop of Baku and head of the country’s Jewish community.

In his meetings with the president and Azerbaijani officials, Francis is also expected to raise the conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh.

Nagorno-Karabakh is officially part of Azerbaijan, but since a separatist war ended in 1994 it has been under the control of forces that claim to be local ethnic Armenians but that Azerbaijan claims include regular Armenian military.

About 75 soldiers from both sides, along with several civilians, were killed in April in the worst violence since 1994.

Returning home from Armenia, Francis said he would urge Azerbaijan during his visit to find a peaceful solution to the conflict.

“I’ll talk to the Azerbaijanis about truth, of what I’ve seen and what I feel, and I’ll also encourage them,” Francis said during his airborne press conference June 26.

“And I’ll say that not making peace over a tiny piece of land — because it’s not very big — just isn’t clear. And I say this to everyone, Armenian and Azerbaijani.”

Here is the detailed schedule released by the Vatican. Times — not all of which were announced July 11 — are local, with Eastern Daylight Time in parentheses:

Friday, Sept. 30 (Rome, Tbilisi)

— 9 a.m. (3 a.m.) Departure from Rome’s Fiumicino Airport.

— 3 p.m. (7 a.m.) Arrival at Tbilisi International Airport. Welcoming ceremony.

— Courtesy visit to the president of the republic at the presidential palace.

— Meeting with government authorities and members of civil society and the diplomatic corps in the courtyard of the presidential palace.

— Meeting with Catholicos Ilia II, patriarch of the Orthodox Church of Georgia, at the patriarchal palace.

— Meeting with Chaldean Catholics at the Chaldean Catholic Church of St. Simon the Tanner.

Saturday, Oct. 1 (Tbilisi, Mtskheta)

— Mass at Mikheil Meskhi Stadium.

— Meeting with priests, men and women religious at the Church of the Assumption.

— Meeting with volunteers and people receiving assistance from the Catholic Church near an assistance center run by the Order of St. Camillus.

— Visit to patriarchal Svetitskhoveli Cathedral in Mtskheta.

Sunday, Oct. 2 (Tbilisi, Baku)

— Farewell ceremony at Tbilisi International Airport.

— 8:10 a.m. (12:10 a.m.) Departure by plane for Baku, Azerbaijan.

— 9:30 a.m. (1:30 a.m.) Arrival at Heydar Aliyev International Airport of Baku.

— Mass at the Salesian-run Church of the Immaculate Conception in Baku.

— Lunch with the Salesian community and the papal entourage.

— Welcoming ceremony in the square of the presidential palace in Genclik.

— Courtesy visit to the president of the republic at the presidential palace in Genclik.

— Meeting with government leaders at the Heydar Aliyev Center.

— Private meeting with the sheikh of Muslims in the Caucasus at the Heydar mosque.

— Meeting with the Orthodox bishop of Baku and with the president of the Jewish community.

— Farewell ceremony at Baku airport.

— 7:15 p.m. (11:15 a.m.) Departure from Baku airport.

— 10 p.m. (4 p.m.) Arrival at Rome’s Ciampino Airport.

(The Catholic News Service also contributed to this report.)

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