First Televised Catholic Mass in Greece

99% of Surveyed Greeks Are Favorable Toward Visit

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ATHENS, Greece, MAY 6, 2001 ( The Mass John Paul II celebrated on Saturday morning, at the Sports Palace of Athens´ Olympic Center, was the first Catholic Mass transmitted on television in Greece´s history.

It provided a new opportunity for the Pope to emphasize the need to promote unity and reconciliation among Christians.

State television and private TV channels transmitted virtually all of the Pontiff´s 24-hour visit.

The Mass was the first celebrated by a Pontiff on Greek soil in the past 1,000 years. In attendance were Greek Catholics, Eastern Catholics and Iraqis — the latter, Chaldeans, who sang at the opening of the liturgy. Poles and Filipinos, immigrants in Greece, also attended. Numerous Orthodox faithful and Protestants were also on hand.

Witnessing this spectacle of unity, John Paul II, who celebrated the Mass in Greek and Latin, said in French during the homily: «I rejoice in the presence of other Christian confessions at this Divine Liturgy, who thus bear witness to their interest in the life of the Catholic community, and to their common brotherhood in Christ.»

It was an open-air Mass, before icons of Christ and the Virgin Mary, under the sign of the Cross. An instrumental ensemble and Greek chorus accompanied the Mass.

One of the most moving moments took place toward the end of the Mass, when the Pope thanked the Greek president and Orthodox Archbishop Christodoulos for their invitation to Greece. Catholic Archbishop Nikolaos Fóscolos of Athens translated the Pope´s address into Greek. There was significant applause when Christodoulos was mentioned.

Spontaneously addressing those present, the Pope said: «Christ and the Church are counting on you, I bless you with love.» The Mass ended with John Paul II´s greeting of the sick and handicapped, while Catholic faithful sang the Greek national anthem. Native-born Catholics make up only about 0.6% of the population.

Catholics and their leaders, including Archbishop Fóscolo, believe they suffer «social discrimination» and feel like «second-class citizens.» They are not regarded as «Greeks among the Greeks» because they belong to a «foreign faith.»

Proselytism, a poorly defined and variously interpreted concept here, is considered a crime. Some of these laws derive from an old dictatorial regime. The laws of the time, which preceded World War II, have been abrogated. Still, laws on religion are maintained.

Some Catholics have appealed to the Court of European Justice and won their cases. They request the application of the principle of «reciprocity» in order to enjoy the same liberty that the Orthodox have in countries of a Catholic majority.

During the papal visit, Eastern Catholics suffered the absence of the prefect of the Congregation for the Oriental Churches, Cardinal Moussa Daoud. The Orthodox rejected him for being they contemptuously call a «Uniate» — namely, an Eastern Catholic who has returned to the heart of the Catholic Church.

The cardinal is patriarch emeritus of Antioch of the Syrians. Neither he nor any of the Catholic Eastern bishops could accompany John Paul II in his meetings with the Orthodox. The Pope accepted this concession for the sake of unity.

A survey done Friday and transmitted on television revealed that 99% of public opinion was «favorable» to the papal visit.

The Alitalia Airbus carrying the Pope took off from Athens in the late morning for Damascus, Syria, where John Paul II continued his pilgrimage in St. Paul´s footsteps.

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