ATHENS, Greece, FEB. 20, 2001 (Zenit.org).- John Paul II has officially requested the consent of the leader of the Greek Orthodox Church, to visit Athens as a pilgrim and head of state, according to Catholic sources in this country.
Through Archbishop Paul Fouad Tabet, its apostolic nuncio in Greece, the Vatican delivered an official petition Monday to Christodoulos, the Orthodox archbishop of Athens. In the petition the Holy Father mentions his hope of concluding his pilgrimage in St. Paul´s footsteps.
The tone of the letter sought to avoid any confrontation with members of the Orthodox hierarchy, some of whom do not favor the Bishop of Rome´s arrival in Orthodox lands.
Spokeswoman Maria Koutatzi, of the Catholic Church in Greece, revealed that the letter expresses the Pontiff´s wish to carry out a “visit as pilgrim in the framework of the Apostle Paul´s trips.” This is a wish the Pope expressed in his June 1999 letter on his Jubilee pilgrimage to places of salvation.
He does not want to go to Athens without the consent of the Orthodox Church, however, since he does not want to stir divisions. The Greek government already has repeatedly and officially invited the Holy Father to visit that city.
John Paul II might go to Athens in early May. This would be a stage in a trip that would also take him on pilgrimage to Syria and Malta.
Monday´s issue of the Athenian newspaper Eleftheotypia reported that Christodoulos would be prepared to give his approval to a 24-hour papal visit. However, the archbishop of Athens has not confirmed these reports.
Approval for the papal visit would have to come from the Sacred Synod, a body composed of 78 members of the hierarchy that governs the Greek Orthodox Church. It is scheduled to meet in early March.
Some synod members strongly oppose any effort to heal the 1000-year-old schism between Rome and Orthodoxy, which was caused by theological disputes that have now been overcome and by differences in the concept of the primacy of the Bishop of Rome.