Pope encourages Church in Greece to "renew confidence in God"

St. Paul the Apostle was "cornered" in the Athenian Areopagus, but "he did not let himself be overcome by discouragement, he did not give up the mission". Francis yesterday encouraged the Church in Greece to "a serene trust in God". In parallel, he sought "communion" with Orthodox Archbishop Ieronymos II.

Rafael Miner-December 5, 2021-Reading time: 5 minutes
papa lesbos

Pope receives notes from refugees in Mytilene ©CNS photo/Paul Haring

The courtesy visit to His Beatitude Ieronymos II, Archbishop of Athens and of all Greece, at the Greek Orthodox Archbishopric, and the subsequent meeting in the Throne Hall of the same archbishopric, was an important act of his visit to Greece, the first in chronological order. Also important was the meeting in the Cathedral of St. Dionysius with the Catholic community: bishops, priests, religious men and women, seminarians and catechists, all of whom he encouraged to keep their trust in God, like St. Paul. We will tell you about the Pope's visit to Lesbos.

In the Orthodox See, before Archbishop Ieronymos II, Pope Francis again noted, as he did in Cyprus, that "as Catholics, we have just begun an itinerary to deepen synodality and we feel that we have much to learn from you; we sincerely desire it. It is true that when brothers and sisters in the faith draw close to one another, the consolation of the Spirit is poured into their hearts".

In his speech, the Holy Father explained the reason for his visit, and asked for forgiveness. "Praying before the trophies of the Church of Rome, which are the tombs of the apostles and martyrs, I felt impelled to come here as a pilgrim, with great respect and humility, to renew that apostolic communion and nourish fraternal charity," he said.

Shortly after, he recalled that "five years ago we met in Lesbos, in the emergency of one of the greatest dramas of our time, that of so many migrant brothers and sisters who cannot be left in indifference and seen only as a burden to be managed or, even worse, to be delegated to someone else". And "now we meet again to share the joy of fraternity and to look at the Mediterranean that surrounds us not only as a place that worries and divides, but also as a sea that unites us".

However, after evoking "the common apostolic roots that we share," he added that "we have grown apart: we have been contaminated by deadly poisons, the weeds of suspicion have increased the distance and we have ceased to cultivate communion. With shame - I recognize it for the Catholic Church - actions and decisions that have little or nothing to do with Jesus and the Gospel, based rather on the thirst for profit and power, have made communion wither".

"Plea for forgiveness" to the Orthodox.

"In this way we have allowed fruitfulness to be threatened by divisions. History has its weight, and here today I feel the need to renew the plea for forgiveness to God and to our brothers and sisters for the mistakes that so many Catholics have made," the Pope said, stressing that "it is a great consolation to know that our roots are apostolic and that, despite the distortions of time, God's plant grows and bears fruit in the same Spirit. And it is a grace that we recognize each other's fruits and that together we thank the Lord for them.

"I pray that the Spirit of charity will overcome our resistance and make us builders of communion, because 'if love succeeds in completely expelling fear and the latter, transformed, becomes love, then we will see that unity is a consequence of salvation,' Francis said, quoting St. Gregory of Nyssa in his homily 15, on the Song of Songs.

On the other hand, he asked: "How can we give witness to the world of the concord of the Gospel if we Christians are still separated? How can we proclaim the love of Christ that gathers people together if we are not united among ourselves? Many steps have been taken to bring us together. Let us call upon the Spirit of communion to impel us in his ways and help us to found communion not on the basis of calculations, strategies and expediencies, but on the one model to which we must look: the Most Holy Trinity".

Dionysius, the Areopagite

In his meeting in the Athenian Cathedral of St. Dionysius with the Catholic community, the Pope was welcomed at the main entrance by the Archbishop of Athens, Theodoros Kontidis, S.I., and by the parish priest who handed him the cross and holy water. After the entrance hymn, Archbishop Sevastianos Rossolatos, Archbishop Emeritus of Athens and President of the Greek Bishops' Conference, greeted the Holy Father. After the testimonies of a Sister of the Incarnate Word and a layman, Pope Francis delivered his address, which focused on the figure of St. Paul the Apostle, with a historical reference to the figure of St. Dionysius, titular of the Cathedral.

"Here in Greece," Pope Francis said, "St. Paul manifested his serene trust in God and this made him welcome the Areopagites who were suspicious of him. With these two attitudes he announced that God who was unknown to his interlocutors, and he came to present to them the face of a God who in Christ Jesus sowed the seed of resurrection, the universal right to hope".

"When Paul announced this good news, most ridiculed him and left. However, 'some men joined him and embraced the faith, among them Dionysius, the Areopagite, a woman named Damaris and some others,' the Holy Father continued, quoting Sacred Scripture.

"Most of them left, a small remnant joined Paul, among them Dionysius, incumbent of this Cathedral. It was a small portion, but this is how God weaves the threads of history, from then until today. I heartily wish you to continue the work in your historic workshop of faith, and to do so with these two ingredients: trust and welcome, so as to savor the Gospel as an experience of joy and fraternity."

"St. Paul was backed into a corner."

The circumstances of St. Paul's mission in Greece "are also important for us: the Apostle was cornered," Francis pointed out. "A little earlier, in Thessalonica, he had been hindered in his preaching and, because of the tumults aroused among the people, who accused him of procuring disorder, he had to escape during the night. Now, in Athens, he was taken for a charlatan and, as an unwelcome guest, was led to the Areopagus. He was not, therefore, living a triumphant moment, but was carrying on the mission under difficult conditions."

The Pope then introduced a central message of his address. "Perhaps in many moments of our journey, we too perceive the weariness and sometimes the frustration of being a small community or a Church with little strength that moves in a context that is not always favorable. Meditate on the story of Paul in Athens: he was alone, outnumbered and had little chance of success, but he did not let himself be overcome by discouragement, he did not give up the mission or allow himself to be trapped by the temptation to lament."

"This is the attitude of the true apostle," he stressed. "To go forward with confidence, preferring the uneasiness of unexpected situations to habit and repetition. Paul had this courage, where did it come from? From trust in God. His courage was that of trust, trust in the greatness of God, who loves to work in our weakness. Dear brothers and sisters, we have confidence because being a small Church makes us an eloquent sign of the Gospel, of the God proclaimed by Jesus who chooses the little ones and the poor, who changes history with the simple exploits of the humble.

"The path opened by the Lord".

Pope Francis then encouraged the representatives of the Catholic Church in the Hellenic country: "Dear friends, I would like to say to you: bless smallness and embrace it, it disposes you to trust in God and in Him alone. To be a minority - and in the whole world the Church is a minority - does not mean to be insignificant, but to walk the path opened by the Lord, which is that of littleness, of kenosis, of abasement and condescension. He descended to the point of hiding himself in the folds of humanity and in the wounds of our flesh. He saved us by serving us. He, in fact," Paul affirms, "emptied himself, taking on the condition of a slave. We are often obsessed with wanting to appear, to attract attention, but 'the Kingdom of God does not come in such a way that it can be visibly detected' (Lk 17:20).

"Let us help each other to renew this trust in the work of God, not to lose the enthusiasm of service. Courage and forward!" concluded His Holiness the Pope, who, after the meeting, made a brief stop in his car to admire the Acropolis of Athens, which he had spoken about upon his arrival in Greece. The Holy Father is today in Lesbos, with the migrants.

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