LPope Francis persists and signs. Customary with calls to welcome migrants, the Sovereign Pontiff renewed his commitment during a visit to Athens on Saturday, December 4. After two days spent in Cyprus, during which he denounced “the wall of hatred” erected against migrants, the Pope took advantage of his visit to the Greek capital to denounce a Europe “sometimes blocked” and “torn apart by nationalist egoisms. “.
Arrived at Athens airport at 11 am French time, Pope Francis did not wait long before making such a speech, regretting that “Europe persists in procrastinating” as to the unconditional welcome of migrants. On the contrary, the Bishop of Rome would like the old continent to become “a motor of solidarity”.
He was speaking before the President of the Hellenic Republic Katerina Sakellaropoulou and the Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis as well as an audience of Catholic and civilian personalities who warmly applauded him at the Presidential Palace in Athens.
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First papal visit since 2001
If Pope Francis visited the Greek island of Lesbos in 2016, where he will return on Sunday, it is the first visit of a pope to Athens in twenty years, since the visit of John Paul II in May 2001. In Athens, the sovereign pontiff recalled that Greece had “received on some of its islands a number of migrant brothers and sisters greater than that of the inhabitants themselves”. However “the European community, torn by nationalist egoisms, sometimes appears blocked and uncoordinated, instead of being a motor of solidarity”, he told the political authorities.
A few minutes earlier, President Sakellaropoulou had mentioned “the humanity of the Greeks and the disproportionate burden they have borne” in the management of this crisis. “Our country tries as much as possible to prevent the illegal trafficking of people”, she underlined. The president also thanked the Pope for his “warm support” during the conversion of the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul into a mosque, in order to “preserve it as a universal symbol of religious worship and an emblematic monument of world heritage. “.
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In Athens, the Pope comes “to quench his thirst at the sources of fraternity” and to strengthen his links with his “brothers of faith”, the Orthodox Christians, separated from the Catholic Church since the schism of 1054 between Rome and Constantinople. Francis will meet on Saturday with the Archbishop of the Orthodox Church of Greece Hieronym II and his entourage.
In a video published shortly before his departure from Rome, the Pope presented himself as a “pilgrim” to meet “all, not just Catholics”, a minority of 1.2% in a country with a large religious majority. Orthodox, not separated from the state.
At the source of humanity
This trip – his 35th abroad since his election in 2013 – will also be marked on Sunday by a new lightning visit to Lesbos, emblematic of the migration crisis, where he said he would go “to the sources of humanity. »Advocate for the reception and« integration »of refugees.
On Friday in Cyprus, Pope Francis called to “open your eyes” to “slavery” and “torture”, which migrants undergo in the camps. Forty migrant defense NGOs urged the Pope to intervene to put an end to the alleged refoulements of exiles at the Greek-Turkish borders. The “spiritual father” is eagerly awaited in Lesbos, where around thirty new asylum seekers landed on Wednesday. “We are waiting for him with open arms,” said Berthe, a Cameroonian who expects the Pope “to pray for us because of the insecurities we have experienced”.
During his “brief” visit to Mavrovouni camp, he will meet two refugee families “chosen at random”, according to Dimitris Vafeas, deputy director of the camp. Some 900 police officers were to be deployed during his trip to the Greek island and around the hastily erected camp after the September 2020 fire that destroyed the structure of Moria, which the Pope had visited five years ago. .
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Drones, armored vehicles, cut roads: the capital is also placed under high security until the departure of the sovereign pontiff late Monday morning, in anticipation of possible manifestations of hostility.
Even if the climate is better than in 2001, during the first visit of a pope to Greece, there are, inside the Greek synod, “some famous anti-Catholic fanatics”, Pierre Salembier told AFP. , superior of the Jesuit community in Greece. All gatherings were banned in the center of Athens, overflown by a helicopter. Up to 2,000 police officers are expected in the event of protests by orthodox fundamentalists. Twenty years ago, John Paul II asked for forgiveness for the sins of Catholics against the Orthodox, in reference to the sack of Constantinople in 1204.