Pope Francis arrived in Greece for a two-and-a-half-day apostolic visit

After two days in Cyprus, Pope Francis arrived in Athens this Saturday to meet with Orthodox Christiansduring the first visit in 20 years of a pontiff to this city traditionally hostile to his figure.

The last visit of a pope to the Greek capital dates back to May 2001 with John Paul II. The Argentine pontiff visited Greece in 2016, but his stay was limited to the island of Lesbos, gateway for thousands of migrants to Europe.

As during the two days spent in Cyprus, Francis will “quench his thirst at the sources of fraternity” already strengthen ties with their “brothers in the faith”, the Orthodox Christians, separated from the Catholic Church since the Eastern Schism in 1054 between Rome and ancient Constantinople.

The Sovereign Pontiff of the Catholic Church arrives in the Greek capital this Saturday, December 4 – Photo: AFP

In a video published shortly before his departure from Rome, the pope presented himself as a “pilgrim” meeting “everyone, not just Catholics”, a 1.2% minority in a country dominated by the Orthodox religion, linked to the state.

On Saturday, he will meet President Katerina Sakellaropoulou, andPrime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis and with the Archbishop of the Orthodox Church of Greece, Jerome II.

He will then meet the country’s Catholic community, for whom “The presence of the Holy Father in Greece is an encouragement”, according to Markos Foscolos, theologian and priest from the island of Tenos.

Back to Lesbos

His two and a half day stay in Greece will be marked by another visit on Sunday to the island of Lesbos, emblem of the migration crisis, where he goes “to the sources of humanity” to defend asylum and the “integration” of refugees.

Pope Francis at the presidential pat-down in Athens with the President of Greece Katerina Sakellaropoulou
Pope Francis at the presidential pat-down in Athens with the President of Greece Katerina Sakellaropoulou – Photo: AFP

On Friday, in Cyprus, Pope Francis asked “to open our eyes” to the “slavery” and “torture” suffered by migrants in the camps. According to the Cypriot authorities, 50 migrants, including 10 in irregular detention, will be transferred to Rome.

About forty NGOs defending migrants have asked to meet him so that he can intercede to put an end to the alleged returns of exiles from Greece to Turkey.

The “spiritual father” is eagerly awaited on Lesbos, where around 30 new asylum seekers arrived on Wednesday.

“We await him with open arms,” said Berthe, a Cameroonian who wants the pope to “pray for us because of the insecurity we have experienced and help us overcome it in faith.”

During his “brief” visit to the Mavrovouni camp, he will “clearly take an interest in the refugees” and meet two “randomly selected” families, camp deputy director Dimitris Vafeas told ERT on Friday.

Some 900 police officers will be deployed as they move to the Greek island and around the field hastily erected after the September 2020 fire in the grounds of Moria, visited by the pope five years ago.

High security

Drones, armored vehicles, blocked streets: The Greek capital will also have a reinforced security system until the departure of the pontiff on Monday morningin anticipation of possible anti-papist demonstrations.

Although the climate is better than in 2001, during the first visit of a pope to Greece, there are “some reputed anti-Catholic fanatics” within the Greek synod, explains to AFP Pierre Salembier, superior of the Greek Jesuit community.

The most famous is Metropolitan Bishop Seraphim of Piraeus, who called Francis’ visit “immoral”, According to the Union of Orthodox Journalists.

Up to 2,000 police officers will be mobilized in Athens against possible demonstrations by orthodox fundamentalists. “They will be few in number, but noisy,” warns theologian Petros Panagiotopoulos, professor at the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki.

Twenty years ago, John Paul II asked forgiveness for the sins of Catholics against the Orthodox, in reference to the siege and sack of Constantinople in 1204.

However, the Catholic Archbishop of Athens, Theodore Kodidis, hopes that “individuals or groups will protest and return to the weight of history”.

But he does not consider them to have a “significant influence” and sees in this meeting with the Orthodox Church “a sign of hope and progress”.

Although a government source called the visit “meaningful”, many Greeks are not interested in the event, Kodidis says. Because “it is an Orthodox country, the pope remains a distant figure”.

*With information from AFP

Leave a Comment