in Georgia is a new resource of the Human Rights Center (HRIDC) to highlight the issues related with the freedom of religion or belief and to promote development of the culture of tolerance and inter-religious dialogue. We are ready to cooperate with every religious group and to promote their freedom of faith.


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Orthodox Liturgy Continues in Batumi Catholic Church

Natia Gogolashvili

Catholics call it Batumi Holly Mother’s Church; the Orthodox call it Batumi Annunciation Church. Its construction started on April 12, 1897 and finished on June 30, 1902. Famous catholic Maecenas Stepane Zubalashvili funded the construction. In 1903, Episcope Baron Eduardo Ropp sanctified the church. In 1937, the soviet government closed the church and arranged a high-voltage sub-station in it. Based on the March 15, 1989 Edict # 240 of the Council of Ministers of the Adjara Autonomous Republic the Batumi Catholic Church was assigned to the Georgian Orthodox Patriarchate under ownership.

“In 1989, Georgian Catholics petitioned to the government many times. Initially they promised us to return the church but then the Orthodox people misappropriated it. The Catholic liturgy was never renewed in it. Initially, before the church opened, they promised that Orthodox and Catholic parishes could conduct liturgy n turn but it did not happen in fact,” Catholic Nana Gegenava said.

Orthodox Church of Georgia acknowledges the problem but does not intend to return the church to Catholics.

“Visually those churches really resemble catholic churches but if we make historical analysis, we will understand the reality.  During Bolshevik regime, orthodox parish was most victimized. Bolsheviks left only 50 out of 3 000 functioning orthodox churches in Georgia. The rest were destroyed, transformed or closed and big part of clergies was killed. At the end of the Bolshevik governance, churches were spontaneously assigned to owners. At that time, there were very few of Catholics and people of other religions. So, it was not necessary to assign any temple to them. Consequently, they were assigned to the Georgian Patriarchy where we conduct religious services nowadays,” said secretary of the Georgian Patriarchate Father Michael Botkoveli.

Local Catholics have different position; they believe the Batumi Annunciation Church is Catholic Church both by architect and historically. However, they said lately they have not applied to relevant state institutions with the request to assign the church to them.

The Head of Legal Provision Service at the State Agency for Religious Issues Archil Metreveli said Catholics have never applied to them with regard to disputed churches.

“The Agency can start discussion of property issue of any disputed chapel only after representatives of religious groups apply to us for help. Generally, the state shall not interfere in similar disputes if it does not refer to state properties. It is topic of permanent discussions but procedurally the work on those cases has not started yet. Nowadays, the Catholic Church prefers to construct new chapels,” said Archil Metreveli.

Father Michael Botkoveli from the Georgian Patriarchate said the patriarchate is not against dialogue about disputed churches and supports commencements of two-party commissions.

“Of course, talks about ownership are still ongoing. We meet representatives of all churches, who claim these temples as theirs. The Patriarchate is not against dialogue. It is important to estimate the historical truth but we cannot rely only on architecture of the building. So we propose to establish two-party commission, which will be composed of Orthodox clergymen and the representatives of the religion groups, who argue about properties in Georgia. Architects, historians and archeologists will also join the commission. Thus, we will succeed to reach agreement,” said Father Michael Botkoveli.

The church has status of the cultural heritage. Both the government and each citizen of the country are obliged to take care of the church. Part of its walls is damaged and needs reconstruction. Representatives of the Adjara Agency for the Preservation of Cultural Heritage told Human Rights Center that rehabilitation works of the church will be planned and implemented in accordance to the law.

Catholic Nana Gegenava said there are about one hundred Catholics in the city. Instead the seized church they received a space in Batumi to construct a chapel. In 1999, on the Easter Holiday, Archbishop Juzzeppe Pazoto sanctified the land and started construction of a new catholic church. It was opened and sanctified on June 24, 2000.

The article was prepared in the frame of the project implemented with financial support of the Government of Canada. This article does not necessarily reflect the views of the donor. 
Human Rights Center bears sole responsibility for the content of the article.
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