ATHENS, Mar. 7, 01 (CWNews.com) -- The Holy Synod of the
Greek Orthodox Church has announced that Pope John Paul II
will be welcome to visit Greece.
The public statement by the ruling body of the Greek
Orthodox Church indicated that a "mixed commission" made up
of Catholic and Orthodox representatives would be organized
to make plans for a papal visit.
Pope John Paul has repeatedly expressed a desire to visit
Greece, tracing the footsteps of St. Paul, as part of his
"Jubilee pilgrimage" to the historic sites connected with
the history of salvation. In January, Greek President
Constantinos Stephanopoulos had issued an invitation to the
Pope on behalf of the country's government. However, Vatican
officials made it clear that the Pope's trip would not go
forward without a green light from the Greek Orthodox
Church. Nearly 97 percent of the people of Greece are
members of the Greek Orthodox Church, and tensions between
the Catholic and Orthodox communities had raised doubts
whether the Pontiff would be welcomed.
Although the public statement by the Orthodox leadership
stopped short of an outright invitation the Holy Father to
Greece, the Holy Synod expressed no opposition to the
prospect of a papal visit. And the statement from the Greek
Orthodox leadership cautions the people of Greece against
any display of hostility toward the Pontiff.
Archbishop Nikolas Foscolos of Athens, the ranking Catholic
prelate in Greece, welcomed the statement of the Holy Synod
as "a positive sign for us." Vatican spokesman Joaquin
Navarro-Valls said, "We hope that we can soon announce the
spiritual pilgrimage of the Pope in the footsteps of St.
Paul, according to his desire."
The Vatican indicated that no formal announcement would be
forthcoming until an official invitation was received from
the Holy Synod. Officials hope that the Pope will be able
to stop in Greece on his return trip after his visit to
Syria in May.