Pope Francis attacks EU migration divisions during visit to Greece

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Pope Francis on Saturday accused nationalist divisions in the EU of a lack of coordination on migration as he embarked on a historic trip to Greece, aimed at improving complicated relations with the country’s Orthodox Church.

Francis said Europe was “torn by nationalist egoism” over migration during a meeting with EU Vice President Margaritis Schinas, Greek President Katerina Sakellaropoulou and Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, among others responsible.

The European community “continues to procrastinate” and “sometimes appears blocked and uncoordinated” instead of being a “motor of solidarity” on migration, the Pope said.

The 84-year-old’s visit to the Greek capital is the first by a pope since John Paul II in 2001, which in turn was the first papal visit to Athens since the 1054 schism between the Catholic and Orthodox churches.

Meeting with the head of the Orthodox Church of Greece, Archbishop Ieronymos II, Francis underlined the “common roots” of the two churches and followed John Paul by asking forgiveness “for the mistakes made by many Catholics”.

“We must continue this dialogue in truth and love,” Ieronymos said earlier.

Speaking to members of the small Catholic community in Greece, who make up just 1.2% of the predominantly Orthodox population, Francis urged them not to lose their faith.

“Being a minority … doesn’t mean being insignificant,” he said.

Back to Lesbos

François has long defended refugees and will return on Sunday to the island of Lesbos, which he last visited in 2016 during the first years of the migration crisis.

By plane after a two-day trip to Cyprus, the Pope landed shortly after 9:00 GMT in the Greek capital, where security was tightened amid expected protests from orthodox extremists among whom anti-papal sentiment remains strong.

Up to 2,000 police are deployed to Athens to monitor possible disruption by orthodox extremists, who blame Catholics for the 1204 schism and sacking of Constantinople during the Fourth Crusade.

The reciprocal excommunications exchanged between the two churches after the schism were not lifted until 1965.

Authorities have banned protests in central Athens.

Outside the offices of the archdiocese where Francis was meeting Ieronymos, police escorted an elderly Greek priest who called the Pope a “heretic.”

Relations with the Church of Greece are much better than they were before John Paul’s visit, Pierre Salembier, head of the Catholic Jesuit community in Greece, told AFP.

But he said there were still “known anti-Catholic fanatics” within the Church’s governing body.

The bishop of Piraeus called the pope’s visit “immoral”, according to the Orthodox Journalists Union.

François flies to Rome on Monday.

‘Open arms’

During his visit to Cyprus, Francis condemned “slavery” and “torture” in migrant camps, drawing parallels with World War II.

The Cypriot government announced Friday that 50 migrants, including two Cameroonians stranded for months in the buffer zone of the divided island, will be relocated to Italy thanks to François.

On Sunday, the Pope will travel again to Lesbos in Greece, the flashpoint of the refugee crisis of 2015 and thereafter, “on a pilgrimage to the sources of humanity” to call for the integration of refugees.

The vast Moria migrant camp, which the pontiff visited in 2016, was burnt down last year and was replaced by the temporary settlement of Mavrovouni.

With EU funds, Greece is building a series of ‘closed’ facilities on the Greek islands with barbed wire fences, surveillance cameras, x-ray scanners and magnetic doors closed at night.

NGOs and aid groups have raised concerns about the new camps, arguing that movement of people should not be restricted.

Thirty-six groups active in Greece this week have written to Francis to address the plight of those in the camps and to ask for his help in ending illegal push-backs of migrants allegedly by Greek border guards.

Greece vehemently denies the allegations, insisting that its coast guard is saving lives at sea.

Speaking to Francois on Saturday, President Sakellaropoulou insisted that Athens “is making all possible efforts to prevent the illegal trafficking of people and their political exploitation”.

The pontiff is expected to visit the camp and meet with two families “chosen at random,” an official said.

“We are waiting for him with open arms,” ​​said Berthe, a Cameroonian asylum seeker at the camp.

She said she hoped the Pope “will pray for us to help us overcome the insecurities we have been through, by faith.”

On Wednesday, nearly 30 asylum seekers disembarked near the camp. Two migrants died on Friday when a speedboat overturned near the Greek island of Kos.


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