Greek Orthodox Church Blocks Papal Trip to Athens

Patriarch Says Differences Must Be Overcome First

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ATHENS, Greece, JAN. 29, 2001 (
For the time being, the Greek Orthodox Church has frozen plans for a possible visit of John Paul II to Athens.

Archbishop Christodoulos explained this decision over local radio. The patriarch said he believes that Orthodox and Catholics have to overcome their existing differences before the Bishop of Rome can visit the Greek capital.

«If a visit takes place before these differences are resolved, it will not have any results and, on the contrary, will aggravate the situation,» he said.

Last Wednesday, Greek President Costis Stephanopoulos invited John Paul II to visit Athens, to fulfill his Jubilee hope of going on pilgrimage in St. Paul´s footsteps.

In explaining the current differences between Catholics and Orthodox, Archbishop Christodoulos mentioned the existence of Catholics of the Oriental rite as the principal cause of friction. These are Christian communities, which have kept Orthodox liturgy and traditions, but are obedient to the Pope.

Some Orthodox communities, especially the patriarchates of Russia and Greece, regard these Christians as a Catholic «intrusion» in Orthodox territory.

«The dialogue between the two Churches began 20 years ago, but that dialogue has been essentially at a standstill over the last decade,» Archbishop Christodoulos said over the radio.

The Greek-Catholics were persecuted in the countries under Communist domination, as Stalin forced them to become part of the Orthodox Church under pain of imprisonment or even death. In countries like Romania and Ukraine, their goods were expropriated and turned over to the Orthodox Churches.

However, in recent years, these communities have been undergoing a rebirth, and the Orthodox believe that this constitutes a kind of «proselytism» by Rome among Orthodox people.

On Sunday, the Pope announced his decision to name Eastern-rite Archbishop Lubomyr Husar a cardinal. Archbishop Husar of Lviv was recently appointed archbishop major of the Greek-Catholics in Ukraine. In his person, the Pope explained, he is honoring those Churches that «especially in the course of the 20th century were severely tried» and often knew martyrdom.

John Paul II has been the first Bishop of Rome to arrive in Orthodox lands: Romania and Georgia. The Orthodox Churches have been divided since the Eastern schism, which broke out at the beginning of the last millennium over theological questions affecting the doctrine of the Trinity (now overcome), as well as the concept of the primacy of Rome in the universal Church, the real reason for the present differences.

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