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Wednesday, 7 March, 2001, 17:12 GMT
Greek church accepts historic papal visit
Pope John Paul II
The pontiff wants to follow the footsteps of apostle Paul
The Greek Orthodox church says it will not oppose a controversial visit to Greece by Pope John Paul II, a move that could mark the first-ever visit by a Roman Catholic leader.

If he comes, after requesting a visit, I am not going to close the door, after all, even if it was the Mufti of Tehran who was coming I would accept it

Greek Archbishop Christodoulos
The announcement clears the way for the pontiff to realise his dream of following the footsteps of apostle Paul, from Syria and Greece to Malta.

His visit to Greece could be a first step towards healing the "Great Schism" that split the church into Orthodox and Roman Catholic branches nearly 1,000 years ago.

But a number of senior clerics oppose a papal visit, and there are fears that conservative church members and monks from the all-male monastic community of Mount Athos could stage protests during the trip.


We hope this trip will only have a positive result

Holy Synod spokesman Metropolitan Efstathios
Police and security services in Greece and at the Vatican have been warned about the possibility of problems.

The decision by the orthodox church's governing body, the Holy Synod, noted the opposition by some followers and insisted any papal trip be strictly a pilgrimage to biblical sites.

"In the broader spirit... the church does not want to say no to the pontiff especially since the trip has the character of a pilgrimage and only that" said a statement approved by the Holy Synod.

Greek President Costis Stefanopoulos officially invited the Pope to Athens when the two met at the end of January.

Orthodox Christians

The visit could take place on May 9 and 10 during the Pope's trip to Syria and Malta.

Orthodox Christians represent 99% of the Greek population.

Greek Archbishop Christodoulos
Archbishop Christodoulos would even accept to meet the pontiff
There are only about 50,000 Roman Catholics among Greece's 10.2 million native-born population.

Some liberal clergymen could see the Pope's presence as helping heal the estrangement between Roman Catholics and Orthodox Christians.

But many Greek Orthodox factions hold strong anti-Vatican views.

The Greek church last year rebuffed an attempt by the Pope to include Greece on his pilgrimage to biblical sites, demanding an apology for what it considers a long history of Vatican-sponsored aggression and arrogance.

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Pope appeals for dialogue
24 Feb 00 | Middle East
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10 May 99 | Europe
Analysis: A 1,000-year divide
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