ATHENS, GREECE – On Saturday, Pope Francis warned that the “easy answers” of populism and authoritarianism threaten democracy in Europe and called for a new dedication to promoting mutual benefit.
Arriving in Greece, the birthplace of democracy, Francis used a speech to Greek political and cultural leaders to warn Europe at large of the threats the continent faces. face to face. He said only strong multilateralism can solve the pressing issues of the day, from protecting the environment to fighting pandemics and poverty.
“Politics needs this, to put public needs before private interests,” Francis said. “However, we cannot avoid anxiety about how today, and not just in Europe, we are seeing a retreat from democracy.”
Late Saturday, Francis met the leader of the Greek Orthodox Church, Archbishop Ieronymos, and was briefly congratulated upon his arrival at the archbishop’s residence.
“Pope, you are a heretic!” An elderly Orthodox priest shouted three times before the police took him away. Francis didn’t seem to notice and went inside, but the disturbance was a reminder of the lingering tensions between Catholicism and Orthodoxy in Greece.
Francis, who has lived through Argentina’s populist Peronist and military dictatorship, has frequently warned of the threat of authoritarianism and populism and the danger it poses to the European Union and to democracy itself.
He did not name any specific countries or leaders in his speech. However, the EU has feuds with members Poland and Hungary over matters of the rule of law, with Warsaw insisting that Polish law take precedence over EU policies and regulations.
Outside the bloc, populist leaders in Brazil and the administration of former US President Donald Trump have pressed for environmental nationalist policies that stand in stark contrast to Pope Francis’ call to care. our common home.”
At the start of the second leg of a five-day trip to Cyprus and Greece, Francis recalled that in Greece, according to Aristotle, the man had become conscious of being a political animal and a member. member of a local community.
“Here, democracy was born,” Francis told Greek President Katerina Sakellaropoulou. “That cradle, thousands of years later, has become a home, a great home of democratic peoples. I am talking about the European Union and the dream of peace and brotherhood that it represents. so many nations.”
That dream is at risk amid economic turmoil and other pandemic disruptions that could spur nationalist sentiment and make authoritarianism seem “attractive and the answers easy.” populism seems appealing,” said Francis.
“The remedy is not found in an obsessive search for fame, in a lust for visibility, in a series of unrealistic promises… but in a,” he says. good politics,” he said.
As an example, Francis praised the “necessary vaccination campaign” promoted by government agencies to tame the coronavirus.
He mentions another Greek physician-philosopher – Hippocrates – in response to vaccine skeptics and virus deniers, who have many religious conservatives among them.
Francis cited the Hippocratic oath of not only doing what is best for the sick, but also “abstaining from that which is harmful and offensive to others,” especially the elderly.
President of Greece sentimental in his speech. “The virus spreads and mutates, supported by irrational denial of reality and inequality in our society,” said Sakellaropoulou.
Greece is grappling with its highest level of coronavirus infections since the start of the pandemic with a record number of deaths. A quarter of the country’s adults are still unvaccinated, and Congress recently approved the regulation of vaccines for those over 60.
Pope Francis’ trip was overshadowed by the December 2 death of the Vatican Ambassador to the European Union, Archbishop Aldo Giordano. He and the president of the Italian bishops’ conference were among several bishops who tested positive after celebrating Pope Francis’ last Mass in Slovakia in September.
The Vatican’s European Union embassy confirmed that Giordano had contracted the virus a few days earlier during a meeting of European bishops in Hungary.
Pope Francis’ visit to Cyprus and Greece also focuses on the plight of migrants as Europe strengthens its border control policies. He is expected to travel on Sunday to the island of Lesbos in the Aegean Sea, which he visited five years ago to meet migrants at a detention camp.
In Athens, Francis also met Archbishop Ieronymos, head of the Greek Orthodox Church.
In 2001, Pope John Paul II became the first Catholic leader to visit Greece in more than 1,200 years, and he used the occasion to ask forgiveness for sins “caused by deeds or omissions.” ” of Catholics against Orthodoxy for centuries.
Pope Francis’ visit 20 years later is expected to continue his attempt to mend Catholic-Orthodox relations, still wounded by the Great Schism that has divided Christianity, as evidenced by the horrifying turn of events. on Saturday.
Francis has promoted interfaith initiatives, as the two churches try to move from centuries of rivalry and distrust to cooperation.
Orthodox churches are also seeking alliances amid a deepening dispute over the independence of the Ukrainian church, which has historically been administered by the Russian Orthodox Church.
“I think the Pope’s presence in Greece and Cyprus signals a return to the normal relationship that we should have … so that we can move towards what is most important: the unification of the world. Christian world,” Ioannis Panagiotopoulos, an associate professor of divinity and church history at the University of Athens, told The Associated Press.
Up to 4,000 police officers are on duty in Athens for the Pope’s visit, and authorities banned protests and mass gatherings in central Athens over the weekend.
The Pope’s visit ends on Monday.