Pope Francis in Greece highlights plight of migrants and refugees

Pope Francis in Greece highlights plight of migrants and refugees
© Provided by dw.com Pope Francis sought to heal religious divides in Athens and praised Greece as the cradle of democracy

Pope Francis landed in Athens Saturday on the second leg of his eastern Mediterranean tour aimed to draw attention to the suffering of migrants and refugees.

His arrival in Athens, where he was greeted by Greek youth in traditional dress, a boy from Africa and a girl from the Philippines, comes after two days in Cyprus with much the same focus on the world’s displaced people. Pope Francis has made humanizing migrants and refugees a key part of his papacy.

The religious leader likened the hardships faced by migrants as a “horrendous modern Odyssey.”

He also praised Athens and Greece as the cradle of democracy.

“From the cradle, millennia later, became a house, a great house of democratic peoples: I refer to the European Union and to the dream of peace and fraternity that it represents for many peoples,” the pontiff said in Athens after being received by President Katerina Sakellaropoulou.

At the same time, Pope Francis also warned that Europe was “torn by nationalist egoism” and decried “regression” in Europe and beyond.

The visit to Athens is the first by a pope since John Paul II visited in 2001. Pope John Paul II’s visit was the first to Athens since the schism between the Catholic and Orthodox Churches in 1054.

Catholics in Greece comprise just just 1.2% of the population which is majority Greek Orthodox.

What is on the pope’s itinerary in Athens?

In Athens, Pope Francis met Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, with talks with the head of the Church of Greece, Archbishop Ieronymos, scheduled for later on Saturday. He is also set to meet young people at a Catholic school.

On Sunday evening, a large Mass is planned at the Athens Concert Hall.

Protests have been banned in the capital during the pope’s three-day visit. A rally against the COVID-19 vaccine mandate had been planned outside parliament for Saturday.

Orthodox hardliners who blame the Catholic Church for the schism and the sacking of Constantinople in 1204 during the fourth crusade were expected to demonstrate against the pope’s visit.

“They will be few, but loud,” Petros Panagiotopoulos, a theologian at Aristotle University in Thessaloniki, told the AFP news agency.

On Monday, Pope Francis is set to return to Rome.

How has the pope focused on migrants and refugees on this trip?

During an emotional meeting Friday with asylum seekers in Cyprus, Pope Francis likened the conditions migrants and refugees confront in Libya and elsewhere to the horrors of Nazi and Soviet camps. He said it was his responsibility to tell the truth about the conditions they faced.

While in Cyprus, Pope Francis helped facilitate the relocation of 50 migrants to Italy following his eastern Mediterranean trip this week.

On Sunday, he will visit the Greek island of Lesbos again where many fleeing wars, natural disasters and poverty in the Middle East, Africa and Asia are received. Sunday’s visit to Lesbos will be his second.

There he will visit the newly constructed Mavrovouni camp on Lesbos that replaces the recently burnt down Moria camp. Rights groups decry the facility’s focus on high security, likening it to incarceration.

Berthe, a Cameroonian asylum seeker at the camp, told AFP: “We await him with open arms.” She added she hoped the pope “will pray for us to help us overcome the insecurities we have lived, through faith.”

In 2016, Pope Francis visited Moria when he visited Lesbos. As he walked through the camp, refugees and asylum-seekers begged and wept for help at his feet amid the desperate conditions of the camp. He returned to Rome with three Syrian families.

ar/dj (AFP, AP, Reuters)

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