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Pope Francis speaks with Greek Orthodox Archbishop Ieronymos II of Athens Pope Francis speaks with Greek Orthodox Archbishop Ieronymos II of Athens 

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.

By Devin Watkins

It’s only Day Two of the Pope’s Apostolic Journey to Greece, but expats belonging to the Catholic minority are already expressing their hopes for a new season in day-to-day ecumenical relations with the Orthodox majority in Greece.

The Pope spent a good portion of his first day in the EU nation meeting with two Christian communities, speaking to both Catholics and Orthodox about the need for improved relations.

Passion to work together

As he met on Saturday afternoon with the primate of the Autocephalous Orthodox Church of the Greece, Archbishop Ieronymos II of Athens, Pope Francis acknowledged the painful events in the past which have stained relations between East and West.

Following in the footsteps of Pope St. John Paul II, who visited Greece in 2001, the Pope asked for “forgiveness from God and our brothers and sisters for the mistakes committed by many Catholics.”

Speaking to the Catholic community in Greece just an hour later, Pope Francis called on the Church to cultivate “a heart desirous of creating communion amid human, cultural and religious differences.”

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

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Improving day-to-day interactions

Picking up that papal appeal, the Catholic community in Greece—which counts many expats among its ranks—expressed its hopes for a moment of renewed relations with the Orthodox majority.

Mariano Domingo, a Filipino Catholic living in Greece since 1989, said ecumenical relations improved greatly after St. John Paul II asked God for forgiveness for the Sack of Constantinople in 1204, which was carried out by Latin Christians during the Fourth Crusade.

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Mr. Domingo, who works as a sacristan at the Catholic Cathedral in Athens, told Vatican News’ Francesca Sabatinelli that he remembers the Polish Pope’s 2001 visit as marking a change in day-to-day relations with Orthodox Christians.

Ever since that visit, Catholics and Orthodox Christians have celebrated Easter on the same Sunday, despite most Latin rite Catholics around the world celebrating it on a different date due to differences between the Gregorian and Julian calendars.

Mr. Domingo said he hopes Pope Francis’ visit and renewed apology will create another highwater mark in ecumenical relations which will benefit ordinary Catholics in Greece.

Confident trust in God

Another expat living in Greece, Italian-born Paolo Enoizi, said he felt the Pope found Catholics “thirsting for his message”.

Speaking to Vatican News’ Massimiliano Menichetti, the CEO of GasLog Partners, a Greece-based LNG shipping company, said Pope Francis urged the small Catholic community to trust in God despite being in the minority.

“His message [was focused on] the fact that you are in a country that is experiencing so many difficulties, internally and externally, you have the strength and the opportunity to welcome and harbor others,” said Mr. Enoizi. “In spite of all the difficulties, it is an opportunity for everyone.”

Paolo Enoizi on the Pope's Greece visit
05 December 2021, 13:45