ATHENS, May 2, 01 (CWNews.com) - In the midst of protests
by extremist elements in the Greek Orthodox Church against
the visit by Pope John Paul II to the country this week,
the newest complaint is that the Pope should not kiss Greek
soil as is his custom.
Catholic officials in Greece said the Holy Father would be
offered an olive branch and flowers instead of the
traditional bowl of soil he would kiss, but Vatican
officials insisted the Pontiff would continue his
22-year-old tradition. "As is scheduled and as he has done
on all his trips, the Holy Father will kiss Greek soil as a
gesture of respect," papal spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls
Since starting his travels in 1979, the Pope has kissed the
ground when arriving in a country for the first time. As he
has aged and bending down has become more difficult, the
Holy Father has been offered a vessel holding soil to kiss.
Some Greek Orthodox extremists have insisted that soil of
Greece is sacred and the Pope's kissing it would be an act
of provocation and not respect. A Greek Catholic priest,
Father Nikiforos Vidalis, said the switch was needed to
Meanwhile, it was announced from Beirut that Cardinal Nasrallah Sfeir,
the Maronite Patriarch in Lebanon, said today he would not
travel to Damascus with Pope John Paul II this week because
of recent comments he has made regarding Syria's continuing
presence in Lebanon.
The Maronite Catholic Church issued a statement saying, "It
was the intention of the cardinal to participate in the
festivities that would accompany the visit, if it was not
for the unfortunate political significance attached."
Cardinal Sfeir in recent months has led a public campaign
calling on Syria to remove its 35,000 soldiers from Lebanon
and cease treating the country as a virtual fiefdom,
controlling almost all aspects of Lebanon's politics,
culture, and economics.