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Catholic icons and prayer books have been burned at a small Orthodox prayer house in the village of Vale, in southern Georgia’s Samktskhe-Javakheti Region. Catholic and Orthodox parishioners have been praying together at the prayer house for years.
The incident occurred on Monday at around 18:00. Icons and books next to the prayer wall and inside the prayer house were destroyed.
‘I was walking home with my child when I saw the fire. We discovered that Catholic icons and books were burning and some people had gathered’, Mzia Naskidovi, an Orthodox parishioner from Vale told Samkhretis Karibche.
There are about 600 households in Vale, including both Catholics and Orthodox Christians. Locals told Samkhretis Karibche that the prayer house, which was built hundreds of years ago, is a place for both Orthodox and Catholics to pray, and that they cannot recall any dispute or conflict between the neighbours.
‘They only burned Catholic icons, like an icon of St John Bosco, as well as a photo of the Catholic Church in Vale and all the Catholic books. I don’t want to think it was an act deliberately committed against Catholics’, one Catholic parishioner, Shota Gikoshvili, said.
Neither he nor any other local residents have called the police about the incident.
‘We didn’t think it was necessary’, Gikoshvili added.
‘There has never been any conflict between us’
Many Catholics and Orthodox parishioners in Vale told Samkhretis Karibche the incident was just vandalism, insisting a believer would not have done such a thing.
‘The person who did this probably doesn’t believe in Christ at all. Catholics and Orthodox, we would never pass this place without crossing ourselves and lighting a candle. It must have been someone who wants us to confront each other’, Orthodox parishioner Patman said.
Catholic parishioner Merab Gozalishvili said they have no idea who might have done it.
‘There has never been any conflict between us. I hope this will not become a reason for one. It’s been so many years we have lived together and nothing has happened’.
Priests from Vale told Samkhretis Karibche they share this attitude.
‘I am in Tbilisi now. This is the first I heard of this incident. I have no idea, who could have done it. Let God enlighten their mind, whoever did it. I don’t remember any conflict between our parishioners’, Iob Bregadze, a priest from the Vale’s Orthodox Church said.
Mikhail Surmava, a priest from St Mary’s Catholic Church in Vale, cannot name anyone who could have done this, but says whoever did so did it as an act against Catholics, since only Catholic books and icons were burned and not Orthodox ones.
‘I think that whoever did it wants a confrontation between the two parish’, he said.
Surmava said he has decided to start the traditional ritual of Palm Sunday on 25 March from the small prayer house where the incident occured.
‘With this small action, we will remind society that we still exist’, he said.
When asked why they had not appealed to police, he said they decided to accept the incident peacefully and attentively assess it.
The Interior Ministry said they have received no notification about the incident.
‘However, police officers started looking into it after seeing reports about the incident online. We don’t know yet if an investigation will be launched into the incident’, a spokesperson said.
This article is a partner news written by Tamuna Uchidze. The original version first appeared on Samkhretis Karibche, on 13 March 2018.