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The BBC's Brian Barron in Athens
"It was always going to be a difficult visit but the ageing pope persevered all the same"
 real 56k

Specialist in religious nationalism Chrystos Mylonas
"The crusades contributed to the division between the two churches"
 real 28k

Friday, 4 May, 2001, 14:21 GMT 15:21 UK
Pope's olive branch to the Orthodox
Pope arrives in Greece
Greek Orthodox hardliners oppose the papal visit
Pope John Paul II has asked for forgiveness for Roman Catholic sins against the Orthodox faith during his controversial visit to Greece.

He asked God to pardon sins committed during the last 1,000 years since the two churches split, in particular the sacking of Constantinople by Catholic Crusaders in 1204.

For the occasions past and present... may the Lord grant us the forgiveness we beg of him

Pope John Paul II
The Pope's trip had been preceded by demonstrations by Greek Orthodox hardliners who refer to the pontiff as "the grotesque, two-horned monster of Rome".

He told the Greece's Orthodox leader Archbishop Christodoulos: "For the occasions past and present, when the sons and daughters of the Catholic Church have sinned by actions and omission against their Orthodox brothers and sisters may the Lord grant us the forgiveness we beg of him."

Preparations for papal visit, Syria
The Pope can expect a warmer welcome in Syria
The Pope cited the 1204 sacking of Constantinople as an act which filled today's Catholics with "deep regret".

Archbishop Christodoulos had presented him with a list of "offences", from the 11th century Great Schism which divided Christianity into Eastern and Western branches, to the plight of modern Cyprus.

He said the "traumatic experiences remain as open wounds on (the Greek people's) vigorous body."

The archbishop applauded the Pope's speech, and the two men embraced.

BBC Athens correspondent Paul Wood says it is not clear if the papal statement will be enough for the Greek Orthodox Church; noobody expects that achieving the reconciliation so fervently desired by the Pope will be an easy task.

Reaching out

The sacking of Constantinople is still a source of bitterness, nearly 800 years after Catholic crusaders attacked the city, (the present day Istanbul) then the centre of the Orthodox world.

Orthodox monks had staged protests before the visit and the Pope's welcoming committee was marked by an absence of any member of the Orthodox Church.

Crusaders attack
1202: Pope Innocent III launches Fourth Crusade
1203: Crusaders impose pro-Roman emperors
1204: Nationalists depose emperors.
Crusaders sack city,
divide spoils with Venetians
Later on Friday, the Archbishop will join the Pope on a visit to the hillside where St Paul preached to Athenians in the first century.

A church spokesman said no joint prayers or theological discussions would be held.

On Saturday the Pope will lead religious services in a covered stadium before travelling to the airport to continue his trip.

He will be attempting to reach out to other faiths in his next stop - Damascus, the scene of St Paul's conversion, where he will become the first pope to set foot inside a mosque.

The Vatican says it will be the first time that Muslims and Christians have prayed together in an organised way.

Following in the footsteps of St Paul, he will return to Rome via the staunchly Catholic island of Malta, where the apostle was shipwrecked.

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See also:

04 May 01 | Europe
Greek fury over Pope visit
29 Mar 01 | World
Pope reaches out to Islam
24 Feb 00 | Middle East
Pope pleads for harmony between faiths
15 Jan 01 | Country profiles
Country profile: Greece
03 May 01 | World
Pope breaks new ground
04 May 01 | Europe
In pictures: Pope on tour
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