Patriarch of Constantinople Favors Pope´s Visit to Athens

Believes It Might Be Step Toward Unity of Churches

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REGGIO, Italy, MAR. 23, 2001 ( Patriarch Bartholomew I of Constantinople publicly expressed his satisfaction over John Paul II´s upcoming trip to Athens, which has generated opposition among some nationalist Orthodox.

At the end of his visit to southern Italy, the patriarch told the Italian newspaper Avvenire: «I greet with great joy the imminent visit of our brother John Paul II to Greece, and I hope it will make a contribution to the dialogue and spirit of fraternity between our Churches.»

The Pope´s visit to Greece, following in the footsteps of the Apostle Paul, is expected to take place between May 4-5, as confirmed from Athens by the apostolic nuncio in Greece, Archbishop Paul Fouad Tabet.

Some circles of the Greek Orthodox Church oppose to the Roman Pontiff´s stepping on Orthodox soil. Asked about these reactions, the patriarch responded: «What will be, will be. I am very happy about the fact that the visit can take place.»

Among the archbishop of Athens, head of the autonomous Church of Greece, and the patriarch of Constantinople, he is «primus inter pares,» but he does not have effective authority over the other Orthodox Churches.

Meanwhile, John Paul II sent a special message to the patriarch, who is expected to attend an ecumenical prayer meeting this evening, organized by the Catholic Church in Sicily.

In his message, sent to the Sicilian bishops´ conference, the Holy Father expresses the hope that this prayer initiative, which will also be attended by Cardinal Edward I. Cassidy, president emeritus of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, will help to foster full communion among Christians, which must be encouraged «especially through the ecumenism of holiness, prayer, and charity in truth.»

«Every possible effort must be made to hasten the fulfillment of the unity of believers in Christ,» the Pope said.

The patriarch attended a meeting this week in Acireale as part of the program of the fourth Congress of the Sicilian Churches.

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