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Pope Francis thanks Greece for warm welcome

Pope Francis expresses his appreciation for the warm welcome he has received in Greece, and recalls that “thanksgiving” is at the heart of our Christian faith and life.

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Cypriots pleased with local press coverage of Pope’s visit to Cyprus

In the wake of Pope Francis’ visit to Cyprus, a local journalist expresses appreciation for the way the Apostolic Journey was covered in the press and for the message the Pope delivered to the EU nation.

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Pope at Mass in Greece: Conversion helps us move beyond existential deserts

Pope Francis presides over Mass with the Catholic community in Athens, Greece, and encourages them to remain hopeful despite the "existential deserts" of our lives, since the Lord is always there to fill our emptiness if we make room for Him.

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Catholics in Greece hoping for renewed ecumenical relations amid Pope’s visit

Catholics in Greece are praising Pope Francis’ visit as offering the opportunity for a new highwater mark for ecumenical relations with the Orthodox majority.

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Pope's visit to Lesbos in Greece a plea to 'look migrants in the eye'

Our Editorial Director says Pope Francis' visit on Sunday to the Greek island of Lesbos reminds Europe and the world that migrants and refugees are people fleeing war and poverty who must be looked in the eye and not exploited.

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Pope Francis on Lesbos: Stop this shipwreck of civilization

The Pope on Sunday visited the Reception and Identification Centre of Mytilene on the island of Lesbos. While there, he heard the testimonies of migrants, and told those present migration is a humanitarian crisis that concerns everyone.

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Smallness can be a blessing, Pope Francis tells Greece's Catholic minority

Pope Francis meets with clerics, religious, consecrated persons, seminarians, and catechists at the Cathedral Basilica of St. Dionysius the Areopagite in Athens, Dec. 4, 2021. / Vatican Media

Athens, Greece, Dec 4, 2021 / 13:40 pm (CNA).

The smallness of a Christian community can be a sign of closeness to God, Pope Francis told members of Greece’s tiny Catholic minority in Athens Saturday evening. He reflected on the example of St. Paul in evangelizing ancient Greece and proclaiming that their pagan culture held the seeds of Christian faith.

“So, dear friends, I would tell you this: Consider your smallness a blessing and accept it willingly. It disposes you to trust in God and in God alone,” the pope said in remarks to bishops, priests, religious, seminarians, and catechists at Athens’ Cathedral Basilica of St. Dionysius the Areopagite.

“Being a minority – and do not forget that the Church throughout the world is a minority – does not mean being insignificant, but closer to the path loved by the Lord, which is that of littleness: of kenosis, of abasement, of meekness,” he continued. “Jesus came down even to becoming hidden in the weakness of our humanity and the wounds of our flesh. He saved us by serving us.”

While Christians can often be “obsessed with external appearances and visibility,” St. Paul teaches that the Kingdom of God “does not come with signs that can be observed.” Rather, “it comes secretly, like rain, slowly, over the Earth.”

Greece’s 10.7 million people are predominantly Eastern Orthodox. Only about 50,000 are Catholic. The pope arrived in Greece for a three-day trip on Saturday after a two-day visit to Cyprus.

In his Saturday evening remarks, Pope Francis emphasized St. Paul’s trust in God and his wise approach towards the Greeks he evangelized. The apostle knew that God had already planted the seeds of evangelization before him, and saw “the desire for God hidden in the hearts of those people, and wanted gently to share with them the amazing gift of faith.”

“Paul proclaimed the God unknown to his hearers. He thus was able to present the face of a God, who in Jesus Christ sowed in the heart of the world the seed of resurrection, the universal right to hope,” said the Roman Pontiff during the live-streamed meeting.

“When Paul proclaimed this good news, most of them laughed at him and went their way,” the pope said. However, some Athenians joined the apostle and became believers, including the cathedral’s namesake, St. Dionysius. “A small remnant, yet that is how God weaves the threads of history, from those days until our own,” the pope remarked.

Pope Francis praised Greece as “a land that is a gift, a patrimony of mankind, on which the foundations of the West have been built.”

“All of us are sons and daughters of your country, and in her debt: without the poetry, literature, philosophy and art that developed here, we would not be familiar with many aspects of human existence, or be able to respond to many profound questions regarding life, love, suffering, also death,” he told the gathering.

“At the dawn of Christianity, this rich heritage gave rise to an inculturation of the faith, carried out, as if in a ‘laboratory,’ thanks to the wisdom of many of our Fathers in the faith, who by their holiness of life and their writings remain a beacon of light for believers in every age,” he added. St. Paul helped inaugurate “this encounter between early Christianity and Greek culture.”

“He began this work of synthesizing those two worlds. He did it in this very place, as we read in the Acts of the Apostles,” said the pope.

Pope Francis found in the apostle two attitudes that can help contemporary Christians enculturate the faith. First, St. Paul showed “confident trust” in God. Some philosophers who encountered his preaching in Athens considered him a “charlatan” and brought him to the Areopagus not simply to “offer him a platform,” but “to interrogate him” about his “new and strange teaching.” According to the pope, Paul was “being put to the test.”

“This was not a moment of triumph for Paul,” Pope Francis explained. “He was carrying out his mission in a difficult situation. Perhaps, many times along the way, we too feel weary and even frustrated at being a small community, a Church with few resources operating in a climate that is not always favorable.”

“Think about Paul in Athens. He was alone, in the minority, unwelcome and with little chance of success. But he did not allow himself to be overcome by discouragement. He did not give up on his mission. Nor did he yield to the temptation to complain,” said the pope.

“This is very important: watch out for complaints,” he emphasized. “That is the attitude of a true apostle: to go forward with confidence, preferring the uncertainty of unexpected situations rather than the complacency that comes from the force of habit. Paul had that courage.” This courage was “born of trust in God,” who “loves to accomplish great things always through our lowliness.”

As shown by St. Paul, an attitude of acceptance “does not try to occupy the space and life of others, but to sow the good news in the soil of their lives.” This approach, the pope said, “learns to recognize and appreciate the seeds that God already planted in their hearts before we came on the scene.”

“Let us always remember that God always goes before us, God sows before we do. Evangelizing is not about filling an empty container; it is ultimately about bringing to light what God has already begun to accomplish,” Pope Francis said.

St. Paul did not proselytize but based his work on the meekness of Christ. He did not approach the Athenians with the attitude that they were all wrong, as if to say, “Now I will teach you the truth.” Rather, he accepted their religious spirit, invoking their altar dedicated to “an unknown god.”

“The Apostle dignified his hearers and welcomed their religiosity,” the pope said. “Even though the streets of Athens were full of idols, which had made him ‘deeply distressed,’ Paul acknowledged the desire for God hidden in the hearts of those people, and wanted gently to share with them the amazing gift of faith.”

“The Holy Spirit always does more than what we can see from the outside. Let us not forget this. In every age, the attitude of the apostle begins with accepting others,” said Pope Francis. He encouraged Christians “to cultivate an attitude of welcome, a style of hospitality, a heart desirous of creating communion amid human, cultural or religious differences.”

“The challenge is to develop a passion for the whole, which can lead us – Catholics, Orthodox, brothers and sisters of other creeds, including agnostics, anyone – to listen to one another, to dream and work together, to cultivate the ‘mystique’ of fraternity,” said the pope.

Being a small Church, he said, “makes us an eloquent sign of the Gospel, of the God proclaimed by Jesus who chooses the poor and the lowly, who changes history by the simple acts of ordinary people.”

The Church is not called to have “the spirit of conquest and victory, impressive numbers or worldly grandeur,” he said.

“All this is dangerous. It can tempt us to triumphalism,” said the pope.

“We are asked to be yeast, which rises patiently and silently, hidden within the dough of the world, thanks to the constant work of the Holy Spirit,” Pope Francis said.

“The secret of the Kingdom of God is in the little things, often quiet and unseen,” the pope reflected.

Pope Francis apologizes for mistakes of Catholics in meeting with Greek Orthodox leaders in Athens, Greece

Pope Francis speaks to His Beatitude Ieronymos II and other Greek Orthodox leaders in Athens Dec. 4. / Vatican Media

Athens, Greece, Dec 4, 2021 / 09:00 am (CNA).

Pope Francis apologized for the ways Catholics have contributed to division with Orthodox Christians during a meeting with Greek Orthodox leaders in Athens on Saturday.

“Shamefully, patriarch, — I acknowledge this for the Catholic Church — actions and decisions that had little or nothing to do with Jesus and the Gospel, but were instead marked by a thirst for advantage and power, gravely weakened our communion,” the pope said on Dec. 4.

“In this way, we let fruitfulness be compromised by division,” he added. “History makes its weight felt, and here, today, I feel the need to ask anew for the forgiveness of God and of our brothers and sisters for the mistakes committed by many Catholics.”

Pope Francis spoke during a live-streamed meeting with leaders of the Greek Orthodox Church, including His Beatitude Ieronymos II, archbishop of Athens and All Greece, in the throne room of the Orthodox Archbishopric of Greece.

When Pope Francis arrived at the archbishopric, an Orthodox cleric started to protest, shouting “Pope, you are a heretic! Pope, you are a heretic!” before he was taken away by police.

Last month, a Greek Orthodox metropolitan, Andreas of Konitsa, spoke out against Pope Francis’ visit to Greece, also calling the pontiff a heretic.

The incidents reflect a longstanding suspicion of the pope in some corners of the Greek Orthodox Church. Pope John Paul II also tried to bring healing to the Catholic-Greek Orthodox rift during a controversial 2001 visit to Greece, the first by a Catholic pope in over 1,000 years.

John Paul II’s visit, during which he apologized for the sins of Catholics against their Orthodox brothers and sisters, was also strongly protested.

Francis is traveling to Athens Dec. 4-6, after spending two days in Nicosia, the capital city of Cyprus. He will also visit the Greek island of Lesbos, where he met Ieronymos II for the first time during a 2016 visit to the island. The two also met privately Dec. 4.

The populations of both Greece and Cyprus are predominately Orthodox Christian. Pope Francis also met Cypriot Orthodox leaders in Nicosia on Dec. 3.

Greece, officially known as the Hellenic Republic, is a country of 10.7 million people, around 50,000 of whom are Catholic.

Pope Francis told Greek Orthodox hierarchs Dec. 4 that despite the deep divide which still exists between Catholics and Orthodox, “we are comforted by the certainty that our roots are apostolic and that, notwithstanding the twists and turns of time, what God planted continues to grow and bear fruit in the same Spirit.”

“It is a grace to recognize one another’s good fruits and to join in thanking the Lord for this,” he said.

Francis reflected on the old olive trees which can be found in both Italy and Greece, noting that they “unite us” and remind him of the roots Catholics and Orthodox share in their apostolic founding, prior to the division which followed the Great Schism of 1054.

“Underground, hidden, frequently overlooked, those roots are nonetheless there and they sustain everything,” he said. “Saint Paul speaks of them when he stresses the importance of being ‘built upon the foundation of the apostles’ (Ephesians 2:20).”

Unfortunately, after the first centuries bore good fruit, especially in Hellenic culture, “worldly concerns poisoned us, weeds of suspicion increased our distance and we ceased to nurture communion,” the pope said, quoting St. Basil the Great, who said “that true disciples of Christ are ‘modeled only on what they see in him.’”

Pope Francis also invoked the Holy Spirit and his gifts of communion, wisdom, and consolation. “I pray that the Spirit of love will overcome every form of resistance and make us builders of communion,” he stated.

Quoting St. Gregory of Nyssa’s Homily 15 on the Song of Songs, Francis added that “Indeed, ‘if love truly casts out fear and fear is transformed into love, then we will discover that what saves is unity.’”

“On the other hand, how can we testify before the world to the harmony of the Gospel, if we Christians remain separated?” he asked. “How can we proclaim the love of Christ who gathers the nations, if we ourselves are not united?”

“Many steps have already been taken to bring us together. Let us implore the Spirit of communion to spur us to follow his lead and to help us base communion not on calculations, strategies and expedience, but on the one model to which we must look: the Most Holy Trinity.”

Pope Francis decries global ‘retreat from democracy’ in Athens speech

Pope Francis addresses a meeting with authorities, civil society and the diplomatic corps at the Presidential Palace in Athens, Greece, Dec. 3, 2021 / Vatican Media.

Athens, Greece, Dec 4, 2021 / 04:55 am (CNA).

Pope Francis lamented a global “retreat from democracy” in a speech on Saturday in Athens, the cradle of Western civilization.

The pope was speaking to political leaders, representatives of civil society, and members of the diplomatic corps at the Presidential Palace on Dec. 4, hours after arriving from Cyprus.

“Here democracy was born. That cradle, thousands of years later, was to become a house, a great house of democratic peoples. I am speaking of the European Union and the dream of peace and fraternity that it represents for so many peoples,” the pope said.

“Yet we cannot avoid noting with concern how today, and not only in Europe, we are witnessing a retreat from democracy.”

The pope arrived in Greece after a two-day visit to Cyprus, an island in the eastern Mediterranean Sea. In a packed itinerary, he met Cypriot authorities, Orthodox bishops, local Catholics, and migrants, as well as celebrating Mass in the country’s largest stadium.

Vatican Media.
Vatican Media.

The 84-year-old pope’s three days in neighboring Greece will be equally frenetic, with scheduled meetings with Orthodox leaders, the Catholic community, local Jesuits, migrants on the island of Lesbos, and young people.

Vatican Media.
Vatican Media.

Pope Francis made a daylong visit to Lesbos on April 16, 2016, after which he took 12 refugees back to the Vatican.

He is the first pope to visit mainland Greece since John Paul II, who in May 2001 became the first pope to visit the country in 1,291 years.

Vatican Media.
Vatican Media.

Greece, officially known as the Hellenic Republic, is a predominantly Orthodox Christian country of 10.7 million people, around 50,000 of whom are Catholic.

Vatican Pool.
Vatican Pool.

After a farewell ceremony at Larnaca International Airport in Cyprus, the pope departed for Athens. Following an official welcome at the airport, he traveled to the city’s Presidential Palace, where he paid a courtesy visit to Greek President Katerina Sakellaropoulou. Afterward, he met with the Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis.

Vatican Pool.
Vatican Pool.

In his live-streamed address, which cited the Greek philosophers Socrates and Aristotle, the pope stressed that democracy requires the participation of all citizens.

“It is complex, whereas authoritarianism is peremptory and populism’s easy answers appear attractive,” he said.

Vatican Pool.
Vatican Pool.

“In some societies, concerned for security and dulled by consumerism, weariness and malcontent can lead to a sort of skepticism about democracy.”

“Yet universal participation is something essential; not simply to attain shared goals, but also because it corresponds to what we are: social beings, at once unique and interdependent.”

Vatican Media.
Vatican Media.

The pope said that another aspect of skepticism about democracy was the loss of faith in institutions.

“The remedy is not to be found in an obsessive quest for popularity, in a thirst for visibility, in a flurry of unrealistic promises or in adherence to forms of ideological colonization, but in good politics,” he said.

“For politics is, and ought to be in practice, a good thing, as the supreme responsibility of citizens and as the art of the common good. So that the good can be truly shared, particular attention, I would even say priority, should be given to the weaker strata of society. This is the direction to take.”

Vatican Pool.
Vatican Pool.

The pope quoted Alcide De Gasperi, one of the founding fathers of the European Union, who said in 1949 that “There is much talk of who is moving left or right, but the decisive thing is to move forward, and to move forward means to move towards social justice.”

The pope commented: “Here, a change of direction is needed, even as fears and theories, amplified by virtual communication, are daily spread to create division.”

Vatican Media.
Vatican Media.

“Let us help one another, instead, to pass from partisanship to participation; from committing ourselves to supporting our party alone to engaging ourselves actively for the promotion of all.”

Greece has a long southern coastline along the Mediterranean Sea and is a popular destination for migrants trying to enter the European Union, a political and economic bloc of 27 member states.

In his address, the pope acknowledged that migration brought new pressures to the local populace, especially in Greece’s islands.

“This country, naturally welcoming, has seen on some of its islands the arrival of numbers of our migrant brothers and sisters greater than the number of their native inhabitants; this has heightened the difficulties still felt in the aftermath of the economic crisis,” he said.

Vatican Media.
Vatican Media.

“Yet Europe also continues to temporize: the European Community, prey to forms of nationalistic self-interest, rather than being an engine of solidarity, appears at times blocked and uncoordinated.”

He went on: “In the past, ideological conflicts prevented the building of bridges between Eastern and Western Europe; today the issue of migration has led to breaches between South and North as well.”

“I would like to encourage once again a global, communitarian vision with regard to the issue of migration, and to urge that attention be paid to those in greatest need, so that, in proportion to each country’s means, they will be welcomed, protected, promoted and integrated, in full respect for their human rights and dignity.”

Highlights of Pope's first day in Greece

In this video, we relive the highlights of Pope Francis' first day in Greece. He follows in the footsteps of Pope Saint John Paul II who became the first Pope to visit Greece in over 1,200 years. The highlights include a meeting with Greek political and civil authorities, an encounter with His Beatitude Archbishop Ieronymos II of Athens and All Greece, and a meeting with the Catholic community in Athens' Cathedral of St. Dionysus.

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