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Georgian Orthodox Church leaders snub Pope Francis visit

By Sarah Mulé
Georgian Orthodox Church leaders snub Pope Francis visit
Pope Francis leads a canonization mass for Mother Teresa in front of 120,000 faithful in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican on September 4, 2016. The Pope led a mass in Tbilisi on Saturday which was snubbed by leaders of the Georgian Orthodox Church. Photo by Stefano Spaziani/UPI | License Photo

TBILISI, Georgia, Oct. 1 (UPI) -- Leaders from the Georgian Orthodox Church did not attend Pope Francis' mass at a stadium in Tbilisi on Saturday and ordered its followers not to take part.

With just 2.5 percent of Georgia identifying as Catholic, the Mikheil Meskhi Stadium in the nation's capital filled less than 3,000 of its 27,000 seats for the pope's mass. Leaders from the Georgian Orthodox Church were expected to send delegates to the ceremony, but none of the Orthodox Church bishops attended.

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Vatican spokesman Greg Burke said Orthodox rules kept the bishops away.

In a statement posted on the Orthodox Church's website, the Church told its followers they could not participate in the mass.

Pope Francis met with the head of the Georgian church, Patriarch Ilia II, on Friday in an effort to restore unity between the two churches, which have been at odds for centuries.

"We should work together," Pope Francis said in his homily. "We should respect each other and pray together."

The Pope heads to Azerbaijan on Sunday to end a three-day tour of the Caucasus region.

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