1 Twenty years after the last papal visit to Athens sparked protests from monks, Pope Francis heads to the Greek capital on Saturday in search of improving the historically difficult relations between the Roman Catholic and Greek Orthodox churches.
2 Francis visited the island of Lesbos in 2016, but his trip to Athens, which will include a mass and meetings with Greece‘s top cleric, Archbishop Ieronymos, is the first that a pope has visited the Greek capital since John Paul II arrived in May. 2001.
3 The Orthodox Church has been separated from the Catholic Church since the 1054 schism between Rome and Constantinople, present-day Istanbul, which was then the capital of the Byzantine Empire.
4 Hardliners in Greece still blame the Pope for the division and for the Fourth Crusade that sacked Constantinople in 1204.
6 But he said the fact that most parties agreed to the visit was a “sign of hope and progress.”
7 He added that it would be a “moment of unity” for the Catholic community in Greece, which represents about one percent of the faithful, or a little more counting newly arrived immigrants.
8 Black flags
John Paul II’s visit in 2001 sparked a protest by hundreds of monks, who rang bells and waved black flags in their monasteries.
9 “Twenty years ago it was very different, it was the first time that a Pope came to Greece. The reluctance and resistance were much stronger, ”Kodidis said.
11 Pierre Salembier, head of the Jesuit Catholic community in Greece, agreed that times have changed.
12 “The climate in which this reception of the Pope is being prepared is better than that of John Paul II, where the press was dismissive and all the anti-Catholic clichés appeared,” he said.
13 John Paul II himself helped break the ice, praying on a hill where St. Paul preached to the Athenians nearly 2,000 years ago and asking Orthodox believers to forgive the errors of the Roman Catholic Church.
14 During his 2016 visit to Lesbos, for many years a key entry point into Europe for migrants and asylum seekers, the Pope joined Archbishop Ieronymos and Patriarch Bartholomew I of Constantinople, the leader of the world’s Orthodox Christians.
15 Hyacinthe Destivelle, director of the Institute for Ecumenical Studies at the Angelicum University in Rome, said that the friendship between Francis and the patriarch “undoubtedly contributes to deepening relations with the entire Orthodox world.”
18 But the Jesuit priest Salembier warned that, given the declared independence of the different Orthodox churches, Patriarch Bartholomew has limited influence.
Within the Greek Church, Salembier noted, “there are some known anti-Catholic fanatics.”
20 A well-known hardliner, Bishop Seraphim of Piraeus, has called the pope’s visit “immoral”, according to the Union of Orthodox Journalists.
21 In the last 20 years, “the Greek Orthodox community has become a little more fundamentalist,” said Petros Panagiotopoulos, a theologian at Aristotle University of Thessaloniki.
22 “There will be protests,” he predicted, probably small in number “but noisy.”
23 Another theologian, Nikos Zacharopoulos, said, however, that “despite discordant voices … the Greek Orthodox Church, its clergy and laity want to strengthen the ties between the Orthodox churches and Catholicism.”
24 Source Credit: TheGuardian