Greek President Invites John Paul II to Visit Athens

Orthodox Church Now Has Last Word

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VATICAN CITY, JAN. 25, 2001 ( The Greek President invited John Paul II to visit Athens, to be able to realize his Jubilee hope of going on pilgrimage in St. Paul´s footsteps.

To date, the Holy Father´s trip has not been confirmed, as an official invitation from the Greek Orthodox Church, which is divided on the issue, is still awaited.

President Costis Stephanopoulos presented his invitation Wednesday when he met with the Bishop of Rome for a half-hour private audience in the Vatican.

«We expect you soon in Athens, in Greece,» the president said in French. «Merci,» the Holy Father replied.

In his June 1999 «Letter on the Pilgrimage to Places Connected with the History of Salvation,» John Paul II said he would like to be able to stop to meditate in two cities singularly related to the life of St. Paul. He mentioned Damascus, Syria, a trip that the Pope will undertake in the near future, as he himself confirmed today, and Athens, «in whose Areopagus Paul delivered his memorable address.»

John Paul II has been the first Pontiff to visit Orthodox lands, Romania and Georgia. This coming June he will travel to Ukraine.

The Orthodox Churches are separated from Rome since the schism in the East at the beginning of the second millennium of the Christian era. In addition to theological differences on the central Christian mystery of the Trinity, which have now been surmounted, Orthodoxy is not in agreement with the concept of the primacy of the Bishop of Rome.

A press statement by Vatican spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls revealed that the Greek president also met with Cardinal Angelo Sodano, Vatican secretary of state.

Navarro-Valls said that the Greek president´s visit helped the Pope and Cardinal Sodano to maintain «a very cordial and profound exchange of points of view on several topics of the moment, particularly with reference to the cultural roots of European historical tradition.»

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