The government of the former Soviet nation of Georgia is nearing its goal of raising the country's birth rate to secure its future thanks to the patriarch of the Orthodox Church who is now the godfather of 11,000 children, including 400 babies baptized on Sunday.
Orthodox Christian families having two children are now choosing to have a third or fourth child since Patriarch Ilia II began mass baptisms in 2008 with a pledge to become the godfather of them all.
Parents of 400 babies who were baptized Sunday in a ceremony presided over by the patriarch in the capital city of Tbilisi said they could decide to have more children only because of their spiritual leader's assurance, The Associated Press reported.
Patriarch Ilia II has been encouraging the members of his denomination, the largest in the country, to have more children in light of Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili's goal of increasing the aging nation's population from 4.5 million to 5 million by 2015.
More than 80 percent of the population of Georgia practices Orthodox Christianity and the Constitution of Georgia recognizes the special role of the church in the country's history. But it also provides for the independence of the church from the state.
President Saakashvili publicly credits the Orthodox Church with helping increase the country's birth rate by 25 percent between 2005 and 2010. The number of abortions also declined by about 50 percent in that period.
The Georgian government announced earlier this year that all parents would be given a one-time payment of about $600 for a third child and double that amount for a fourth child.