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Monks protest at Pope as Greece goes on strike

Monks protest at Pope as Greece goes on strike

Author: Michael Howard in Athens
Publication: The Guardian
Date: April 27, 2001

Monks at the all-male community of Mount Athos, one of the most revered places in Orthodoxy, will stage an all-night vigil tonight to pray against the Pope's historic visit to Greece next Friday.

Their protest comes amid mounting anger by rank-and-file clergy at the church leadership's decision to lift long-held objections to a papal visit.

Greece is currently engulfed in a tide of strikes against the Socialist government's social security reforms.

Hundreds of thousands of workers took to the streets across the country yesterday, shutting down schools and offices, halting public transport and closing down the media. Even priests heeded the strike call.

If the papal visit goes ahead, religious conservatives have predicted widespread protests, and even violence.

The 80-year-old John Paul II will pay a 24-hour visit to Greece next Friday to retrace the footsteps of St Paul the Apostle, making him the first pope to visit the country since the "great schism" of 1054 which split Christianity into eastern and western branches.

The Pope will make a pilgrimage to the Areopagus, the hill to the west of the Acropolis where St Paul preached the Sermon of the Unknown God.

He will also celebrate mass at the Olympic indoor sports stadium. The tour then takes him to Syria and Malta.

Moderates within the Greek Orthodox church hope the trip will help heal nearly 1,000 years of deep distrust between the churches. Many Orthodox faithful blame the Vatican for what they perceive to be centuries of misdeeds against them - from the sacking of Constantinople by crusaders in 1204 to the bombing of Orthodox Serbia in 1999.

"We expect the Pope to make a humble gesture of love and apology," said Haris Konidaris, the spokesman for Archbishop Christodoulos, the head of the Greek church. "Then the fanatics here will be silenced."

The archbishop has repeatedly called for calm from Greece's ultra-Orthodox groups, including the influential Old Calendarists, who boast some 800,000 followers.

"The faithful will take to the streets; blood could be shed," warnedone black-robed monk.

"Out with the two-horned beast, the Pope of Rome 666!" read a banner. "No to the leader of heresy," read another.

Police have tightened security at Catholic churches across Greece. But fears for the Pope's safety have been raised since the weekend, too, when a home-made bomb exploded outside the offices of the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Athens. No one was hurt in the afternoon blast, which was claimed by anarchists.

Last week, Bartholomew I, head of the Eastern Orthodox church whose seat is in Istanbul, had welcomed the papal trip and he accused opponents of displaying "ecclesiastical provincialism".

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