ATHENS, GREECE – Pope Francis asked for forgiveness for the “historic mistakes made by many Catholics” against Orthodox Christians during a December 4 meeting with the head of the Greek Church, as he urged Catholics and Orthodox believers to seek greater unity.
“Shameful, I admit for the Catholic Church, actions and decisions which had little or nothing to do with Jesus and the Gospel, but were rather marked by a thirst for advantage and power, gravely weakened our communion, “said the Pope at the press conference. first day of his three-day visit to Greece.
Francis is the first pope to visit the Greek capital since Pope John Paul II in 2001. During this visit, mass demonstrations filled Athens with signs labeling the Pope as “the antichrist”.
Despite some lingering tensions between the two traditions and the gray sky of the city, Francis’ welcome was much warmer, with His Beatitude Ieronymos II, Orthodox Archbishop of Athens and all of Greece, describing Francis as the “Primate revolutionary of the Catholic Church. ”
“I have absolute confidence in your power of judgment, your spiritual greatness and your long ecclesiastical experience,” Ieronymos told Francis as the two met at the Archbishop’s residence.
The Roman Catholic Church has been separated from the Orthodox Church since 1054. After his election in 2013, Francis prioritized ecumenical relations with the Eastern Churches, repeatedly acknowledging the sometimes bitter rivalry between the two traditions and regularly meeting his Orthodox counterparts to deepen their relationship. .
In Athens, Francis sought to recall their “common roots which have endured over the centuries” as faith in the apostolic tradition.
Despite the “twists and turns of time” and the roots which have been “poisoned” by “the weeds of suspicion”, Francis declared that “what God has planted continues to grow and bear fruit in the same spirit “.
While cautioning against proselytizing, Francis said that in order for the two churches to “bear witness to the harmony of the gospel before the world,” Christians should not be separated.
“How can we proclaim the love of Christ which gathers the nations, if we ourselves are not united? asked Francois.
“Pope Francis’ openness and his constructive and positive approach to sensitive issues concerning the Orthodox tradition are promising signs on the common path of the Roman Catholic and Orthodox Churches towards full communion,” said Pantelis Kalaitzidis, director of the Academy of theological studies of Volos. RCN.
Kalaitzidis, member of the executive committee of the European Academy of Religions, highlighted in particular the work that Francis and the Orthodox leaders have done together on environmental and migration issues as practical means by which they have brought ecumenism in action, he says, the pope’s popularity increased among the Orthodox.
In 2016, François and Ieronymos met on the Greek island of Lesvos, an important entry point for asylum-seeking refugees in Europe, and the two leaders highlighted their joint work on behalf of migrants.
The Pope recalled “the fate of so many of our migrant brothers and sisters, who cannot be regarded with indifference, seen only as a heavy problem to be managed or, even worse, passed on to someone else”. He will return to Lesvos on Sunday for a half-day visit.
“Now we come together, to share the joy of fraternity and to see the Mediterranean that surrounds us not only as a site of difficulties and divisions, but also as a sea that brings people together”, he said. .
As the two leaders met in Athens, Ieronymos made it clear that they had a lot more work to do together, especially on environmental issues.
Ieronymos called last month’s United Nations meeting in Glasgow, Scotland, on climate change a “disappointment” for its lack of bold international commitments to reduce carbon emissions.
“When it comes to the environment, however, there is no room for compromise,” he said. “This great gift from God is threatened and unless we take bold initiatives, the future that lies ahead is really very dark.”
After his meeting with His Beatitude, Francis will address the Greek Catholic leaders of the Catholic minority country and on Sunday he will celebrate the first papal mass in the capital for two decades.