Vatican City, Oct 1, 2016 / 08:54 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Pope Francis was treated to a special presentation Saturday when young people, including several disabled youth in wheelchairs, performed traditional dances for him during his papal visit to Georgia Saturday. The performance took place during a meeting held outside one of the buildings of the Assistance Center of the Camillian Order in Tbilisi, and included several typical dances with traditional Georgian dress. Around 700 people, including the sick, disabled, and volunteers and workers of the various charity organizations of the Catholic Church in Georgia were all present at the Oct. 1 meeting.
Immediately before the performance, Pope Francis spoke to those present saying he was happy to be with them, even if was just for a little while, and offered his encouragement. “God never turns away,” the Pope said. “He is always close to you, ready to listen, to give you his strength in times of difficulty.” “You are the beloved of Jesus, who wished to identify himself with all who suffer, he himself having suffered in his passion,” he said, and thanked those who assist the sick and disabled for their service.
Welcomed by the Director of the Assistance Center of the Camillian Order and the Director of Caritas Georgia, the meeting was part of the Pope's Sept. 30-Oct. 2 visit to Georgia and Azerbaijan. The trip is seen as a conclusion of his Caucasus tour, following his visit to Armenia in June. So far, the Pope's speeches have largely focused on the need for peace and unity between people.
Greeting the elderly, sick, suffering and those assisting them at the meeting, Pope Francis compared charitable initiatives to the “ripe fruit of a Church that serves, offers hope and shows forth God's mercy.” “I encourage you to pursue this demanding yet fruitful path,” he continued. “The poor and weak are the 'flesh of Christ' who call upon Christians of every confession, urging them to act without personal interests, following only the prompting of the Holy Spirit.” The meeting, he said, “is a witness to communion and a means of fostering the way of unity.”
Fr. Pawel Dyl, a Polish Camillian brother who works at the Assistance Center, told CNA that the dances and singing were thought of “as a moment of rest for the Holy Father” amid his busy schedule. The chair Pope Francis sat on during the brief encounter was the same one used by St. John Paul II during his trip to Georgia in 1999. Located in a poor area of the city, the Assistance Center itself is an unfinished structure, constructed from two other buildings put together. Since March 1998, it has welcomed patients from all over Tbilisi, particularly the poor, guaranteeing medical care with modern procedures.With all the typical wards of a medical clinic, the center has the latest equipment for procedures such as blood analysis, and has many family physicians. The clinic is not only a place where one can go to get a good level of care at a reasonable price, but is also a refuge for the poor.
According to Fr. Dyl, when it was built “Georgia was a country after a war. It looked like a cemetery, because every house lit candles, since there was no electricity.” Many came to the clinic “only to get warm, because the house had no heat.”
The center also provides support for poor families by distributing essential goods and food. Many of the poor are refugees who came from South Ossetia during the 2008 war involving Georgia, Russia and the Russian-backed, self-proclaimed republics of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.
Since 2002, there is also a center for disabled called “San Camillo,” which holds 50 people that are treated alternately in shifts of 25 per day. It will soon be turned into a night center as well. When the Camillian Order first thought of building the center, they faced challenges in obtaining the necessary permission due to the many difficulties involved in the construction.
However, as a response a group of Missionaries of Charity sisters living in Georgia prayed and put medals of the Virgin Mary in the ground where the center would later be built. Eventually, benefactors appeared and they were able to cover the costs. The structure is more than 430,000 square feet — double the size they were expecting. “I sometimes jokingly say to the sisters they have overdone the medals,” Fr. Dyl jested.
In the Oct. 1 meeting with Pope Francis, many disabled were present to meet the Pope, who, in keeping with his unique tenderness toward them, stopped to greet and bless many of them individually on his way in. Speaking to the workers and volunteers present, Francis said that “through your care, you express in an eloquent way love of neighbor which is the hallmark of Christ’s disciples.” “Therefore, dear brothers and sisters, your mission is a great one! Continue to live out charity in the Church, and to manifest this charity in all areas of society with the zealous love that comes from God.”
Andrea Gagliarducci contributed to this story.