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Friday, 4 May, 2001, 07:37 GMT 08:37 UK
Greek fury over Pope visit
Orthodox clerics demonstrate against the Pope's visit
By Paul Wood in Athens

The visit of Pope John Paul II to Greece is the first by a Pontiff in almost 1000 years and has sparked fervent anti-Papal feeling among many Orthodox Greeks.

The 80-year-old pontiff's brief visit to Athens comes as part of a millennial pilgrimage retracing the path of the Apostle Paul from Syria to Malta.

Even Saint Cosmas said the Pope should be damned because he will be the cause of all evil

Father Maximus
The Pope's arrival is expected to be greeted by protests from anarchists and hardliners from the Greek Orthodox Church, the country's official religion.

Hundreds of religious protesters who gathered in central Athens last week under banners declaring "Out with the two-horned Pope" and Orthodox monks held an all-night vigil on Mount Olympus to pray that the pontiff would not come.

The union of Greek clerics is planning a mass bell-ringing protest during the Pope's 24-hour stay.

Anti-pope symbol
Hardliners claim welcoming the Pope means dishonouring the Orthodox church
The Church leadership, meanwhile, has come under fire from clerics, monks and its more conservative membership for bowing - albeit grudgingly - to government pressure to welcome the Pope.

"You have demolished the holy canon, you have insulted the saints who fought the Pope, and opened the door for heavy wolves to enter the Church," declares an open letter from the protestors.

Surprise invitation

The Greek President Costis Stephanopoulos's invitation to the Pope appeared to take both the Greek media and the government by surprise.

Papal "offences" against Orthodoxy
1054 "Great Schism" dividing Christianity
1204 The sacking of Constantinople during the Fourth Crusade
The Inquisition
The Vatican's recognition of the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia
The Vatican immediately made it public and the Greek Foreign Minister George Papandreou was forced to issue a statement stressing that the Pontiff would be coming in his capacity as head of state - an apparent attempt to head off a row with the Greek Orthodox Church.

The Greek Church's outspoken leader, Archbishop Christodoulos, was later persuaded to agree to the visit.

Archbishop Christodoulos's decision breaks a thousand-year-old tradition of hostility which has existed since the "Great Schism" of 1054 split Christianity into Eastern and Western branches.

They have not forgiven the Pope for a long list of "offences" - from the Great Schism itself right up to the Vatican's recognition of the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.

Anti-Pope prophesy

Some of the protestors believe that the Greek Orthodox Saint Cosmas sent them a prophetic warning about the Pope.

When the Orthodox speak of the Fourth Crusade, you'd think it was an event of World War II

Roman Catholic Archbishop in Greece
"We were informed about his years ago by Saint Cosmas," an old woman in black headscarf said.

"He warned that total catastrophe will come from the Pope himself. He is as much of a heretic as it is possible to be."

Father Maximus, who organised some of the protests agreed: "Although one should never condemn a person, even Saint Cosmas said the Pope should be damned because he will be cause of all evil."

Around 50,000 of Greece's 10 million population are thought to be Roman Catholic, with another 200,000 among Greece's foreign residents.

The Pope
Greek Roman Catholic leaders expect the Pope to try to mend the rift between the churches
Many will attend a speech to be given by the Pope in a large stadium in an Athens suburb on Saturday.

Last spring, Pope John Paul II apologised for any offences committed by Catholic faithful, and the Roman Catholic Archbishop in Greece, Nicholas of Athens, told a local newspaper that the Pope might use the trip to try to heal the historic breach with the Orthodox Church.

"Many of us - including me - are expecting something will happen. Pope John Paul II has accustomed people to such breaks [with the past]. I don't know the specifics right now, but I would not rule out some kind of a surprise," the Archbishop said.

But he said this would not immediately wipe out the many historical grievances voiced by the Orthodox faithful.

"This historical past burdens Greece and cannot be erased from one day to the other. When the Orthodox speak of the Fourth Crusade, you'd think it was an event of World War II."

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11 Apr 01 | Europe
Italy renews Vatican Radio threat
15 Jan 01 | Country profiles
Country profile: Greece
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