Bishops Urged Toward Unity With Orthodox

200,000 Catholics in a Country of 10.6 Million

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ATHENS, Greece, MAY 4, 2001 ( John Paul II appealed to Catholic bishops in Greece to work intensely for the restoration of unity with their Orthodox brothers.

At lunch today with five Greek bishops in the Apostolic Nunciature, the Vatican´s official representation in Athens, the Holy Father reminded them: «To our brothers and sisters of the Orthodox Church dwelling in this land, we are united by a powerful bond of faith in our common Lord. How we wish that all hearts were open and all arms outspread to welcome our fraternal greeting of peace!»

After the greeting of Archbishop Nikolaos Fóscolos, president of the episcopal conference, the Pope referred to them as «frontier bishops.»

He told them: «Because of the particular conditions in which you are living, you greatly desire the obstacles that stand in the way of full union, and which cause such suffering for you and your faithful, to be quickly overcome.»

«And so,» he continued, «as you assert your just rights, you urge the Catholic Church, at times impatiently, to take steps capable of revealing, with ever-greater clarity, the common foundations that unite the ancient Churches of Christ.»

Catholics number only 200,000 in a population of 10.6 million. Just over 50,000 of the Catholics are of Greek origin.

«What I wish to emphasize today is that the Pope is here, with you, in this very land, in order to demonstrate a solidarity that is also physical, a genuine and affectionate esteem, and an unfailing remembrance in his thoughts and prayers,»

The Holy Father ended by encouraging the Catholic bishops not to lose hope. He then visited the Catholic Cathedral of St. Dionysius of Athens, in the historical center of the city. It was inaugurated in 1865, and elevated to a basilica by Pius IX in 1877. It is dedicated to St. Paul´s disciple, Dionysius the Areopagite, the first bishop of Athens.

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