May 3, 2001
volume 12, no. 123

New Greek Protest: Pope should not kiss soil

Also, Lebanese Patriarch will not accompany Pope to Greece or Syria

    ATHENS, May 2, 01 ( - 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 said.

    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 avoid "misunderstandings."

    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.

May 3, 2001
volume 12, no. 123
News from ROME
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