The Argentine pontiff goes to meet Orthodox Christians for two and a half days.
After Cyprus, Pope Francis arrived in Greece on Saturday morning for a two-and-a-half-day visit to meet Greek Orthodox Christians, a first in two decades in the Greek capital placed under high security due to the anti-papist climate there. traditionally.
The Argentine pontiff arrived shortly after 11 a.m. (10 a.m. in Switzerland) at Athens airport. He is due to deliver three speeches in the afternoon, before the civil authorities, the Orthodox Archbishop and then the representatives of the Catholic Church.
He had previously spent two days in Cyprus where he strongly lambasted “the wall of hatred” erected against migrants, fifty of whom will be transferred to Rome, including 10 in an irregular situation, according to Nicosia.
“Brothers of faith”
In Athens, he came to “quench his thirst at the sources of fraternity” and strengthen his ties with his “brothers of faith”, the Orthodox Christians, separated from the Catholic Church since the schism of 1054 between Rome and Constantinople.
If the sovereign pontiff visited the Greek island of Lesbos in 2016, it is the first visit of a pope to Athens in twenty years, since the visit of John Paul II in May 2001.
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.
He will meet on Saturday with the President of the Hellenic Republic Katerina Sakellaropoulou and the Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, as well as with the Archbishop of the Greek Orthodox Church Hieronym II, before meeting the Catholic community.
“At the sources of humanity”
His two-and-a-half-day stay in Greece 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” to plead 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 asked to meet with him, urging him 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 and to help us overcome this in faith”.
During his “brief” visit to Mavrovouni camp, he will meet two refugee families “chosen at random”, said Friday on the Greek television channel ERT Dimitris Vafeas, deputy director of the camp.
Some 900 police officers are 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 visited five years ago. .
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 anti-papist demonstrations.
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. The most famous being Metropolitan Seraphim of Piraeus, who called Pope Francis’ visit “immoral,” according to the Union of Orthodox Journalists.
Up to 2,000 police officers are expected in Athens in anticipation 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.
Despite this repentance, the Catholic Archbishop of Athens Theodore Kodidis also expects “people or groups to protest and return to the weight of history”. But he does not judge “their significant influence” and sees in this meeting with the Orthodox Church “a sign of hope and progress”.
If the Pope’s visit was qualified as “significant” from a government source, many Greeks are “not interested in this event”, according to Bishop Kodidis. Because “here it is an Orthodox country, the Pope remains a distant figure”.