On the second leg of his eastern Mediterranean journey, Pope Francis arrived in Athens on Saturday to raise attention to the plight of migrants and refugees, according to DW.
His arrival in Athens, where he was met by Greek youngsters dressed in traditional attire, an African child, and a Filipino girl, follows two days in Cyprus with a similar focus on the world’s displaced people.
Pope Francis has made it a priority to humanise migrants and refugees during his pontificate.
The religious leader compared refugees’ tribulations to a “horrible modern Odyssey.”
He also lauded Athens and Greece for being the birthplace of democracy.
“From the cradle to the grave, millennia later, became a house, a great house of democratic peoples: I refer to the European Union and the goal of peace and brotherhood that it represents for many peoples,” the pontiff remarked after being welcomed by President Katerina Sakellaropoulou in Athens.
At the same time, Pope Francis cautioned that Europe is being “torn under by nationalist egoism” and condemned “regression” in Europe and elsewhere.
The Pope’s visit to Athens is the first since John Paul II in 2001. The visit of Pope John Paul II to Athens was the first since the 1054 division between the Catholic and Orthodox Churches.
In Greece, Catholics make up only 1.2 percent of the population, which is overwhelmingly Greek Orthodox.
In Athens, Pope Francis met Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, with talks with the head of the Church of Greece, Archbishop Ieronymos, scheduled for later on Saturday. He is also set to meet young people at a Catholic school.
On Sunday evening, a large Mass is planned at the Athens Concert Hall.
Protests have been banned in the capital during the pope’s three-day visit. A rally against the COVID-19 vaccine mandate had been planned outside parliament for Saturday.
Orthodox hardliners who blame the Catholic Church for the schism and the sacking of Constantinople in 1204 during the fourth crusade were expected to demonstrate against the pope’s visit.
“They will be few, but loud,” Petros Panagiotopoulos, a theologian at Aristotle University in Thessaloniki, told the AFP news agency.