Pope Francis was received upon his arrival to the Patriarchate of the Georgian Orthodox Church to the sound of a special version of the Ave Maria: one composed by Patriarch Ilia II himself.
For years, Patriarch Ilia II was a key figure in ecumenical efforts within Christianity, but some threatened him with a schism if he continued in that path. Since then, his has become one of the most hostile Orthodox branches towards Rome.
That is why this friendly meeting between the two leaders is so relevant.
Ilia II, age 83, welcomed the pope in person at the airport. Later, he met with him in private, and he presented the pope with this icon that the pope revered with a kiss.
PATRIARCH ILIA II
"Your Holiness, beloved brother in Christ...”
"Thank you, Holiness. Hearing your 'Ave Maria' has moved me deeply. Such beauty can only come from a heart that loves the Holy Mother of God very much. Only the heart of a son and a child, can create something so beautiful.
Dear Brother, let us allow the Lord to gaze upon us again, let us answer his request that, together, we can be heralds of His presence.”
As he spoke, the pope realized the interpreter was struggling to keep up, and he offered him water from his own glass.
The meeting concluded with a toast in the traditional Eastern fashion, with tea and coffee.
PATRIARCH ILIA II
"God bless the Roman Catholic Church. God grant Your Holiness, Pope Francis, a long life.”
"God bless Your Holiness and the Georgian Church. May God grant it grace and holiness, so that it may walk forward along the path of freedom.”
Ilia II has been the Georgian Patriarch for 39 years. He witnessed the devastating effects of the Soviet regime on Christianity. Under Communist rule, the number of churches in Georgia went from 2,455 to 80.