In the cradle of democracy, Pope warns of populist threats – .

In the cradle of democracy, Pope warns of populist threats – .

ATHENS, Greece (AP) – Pope Francis warned on Saturday that the “easy answers” of populism and authoritarianism threatened democracy in Europe and called for a new dedication to promoting the common good.

Arriving in Greece, the cradle of democracy, Francis used a speech to Greek political and cultural leaders to warn Europe as a whole of the threats facing the continent. He said that only strong multilateralism can solve the pressing problems of the day, from protecting the environment to combating the pandemic and poverty.

“Politics needs this, in order to put common needs ahead of private interests,” Francis said. “Yet we cannot avoid seeing with concern how today, and not only in Europe, we are witnessing a decline in democracy. “

Later on Saturday, Francis met with the head of the Greek Orthodox Church, Archbishop Ieronymos, and was briefly heckled as he arrived at the archbishop’s residence.

“Pope, you are a heretic! An elderly Orthodox priest shouted three times before the police took him away. Francis appeared not to notice it and walked inside, but the disturbance was a reminder of the lingering tensions between Catholics and Orthodox Christians in Greece.

Francis, who lived through Argentina’s populist Peronist era as well as its military dictatorship, has often warned of the threat of authoritarianism and populism and the danger it poses to the European Union and to democracy itself. same.

He did not name any particular country or leader during his speech. The EU, however, is locked in a row with its members, Poland and Hungary, over rule of law issues, with Warsaw insisting that Polish law takes precedence over EU policies and regulations. .

Outside the bloc, populist leaders in Brazil and the administration of former US President Donald Trump lobbied nationalist environmental policies that contrasted sharply with Francis’ call to take care of “our common home.” “.

Opening the second leg of his five-day trip to Cyprus and Greece, François recalled that it was in Greece, according to Aristotle, that man became aware of being a political animal and a member of a community of fellow citizens. .

“Here, democracy was born,” François told Greek President Katerina Sakellaropoulou. “This cradle, thousands of years later, was to become a house, a great house of democratic peoples. I am talking about the European Union and the dream of peace and fraternity that it represents for so many peoples.

This dream is threatened amid economic upheavals and other disruptions from the pandemic that can breed nationalistic sentiments and make authoritarianism appear “compelling and populism’s easy responses seem appealing,” Francis said.

“The cure does not lie in an obsessive quest for popularity, in a thirst for visibility, in a flurry of unrealistic promises… but in good policy,” he said.

For example, François praised the “necessary vaccination campaign” promoted by government authorities to tame the coronavirus. He referred to another Greek physician-philosopher – Hippocrates – in response to vaccine skeptics and virus deniers, who have many religious conservatives among them.

Francis quoted the Hippocratic Oath to not only do what is best for the sick, but to “refrain from anything that is harmful and offensive to others,” especially the elderly.

The Greek President felt the sentiment in his speech. “The virus spreads and mutates, aided by the irrational denial of reality and the inequalities in our societies,” said Sakellaropoulou.

Greece is grappling with its highest level of coronavirus infections since the start of the pandemic with deaths approaching record levels. A quarter of the country’s adults remain unvaccinated, and parliament recently approved a mandate to vaccinate people over 60.

Francis’ journey was overshadowed by the death on December 2 of the Vatican’s ambassador to the European Union, Archbishop Aldo Giordano. He and the president of the Italian Bishops ‘Conference were among several prelates who tested positive after celebrating Francis’ final Mass in Slovakia in September.

The Vatican embassy to the EU insisted Giordano had contracted the virus days earlier during a meeting of European bishops in Hungary.

Francis’ visit to Cyprus and Greece also focused on the plight of migrants as Europe tightens its border control policies. He is due to travel to the island of Lesbos in the Aegean Sea on Sunday, where he went five years ago to meet migrants in a detention camp.

In Athens, Francis also meets Archbishop Ieronymos, head of the Greek Orthodox Church.

In 2001, Pope John Paul II became the first Catholic leader to visit Greece in over 1,200 years and he took the opportunity to implore forgiveness of sins “by action or omission” of Catholics against the Orthodox. over the centuries. Francis’ visit 20 years later is expected to further attempt to heal Catholic-Orthodox ties, still wounded by the Great Schism that divided Christianity, as evidenced by the rowdy incident on Saturday.

Francis has accelerated interfaith initiatives as the two churches attempt to move from centuries of competition and mistrust to collaboration.

Orthodox churches are also seeking alliances amid growing conflict over the independence of the Ukrainian church, which was historically ruled by the Russian Orthodox Church.

“I think the presence of the Pope in Greece and Cyprus signals a return to the normal relationship we should have (…) an associate professor of theology and church history at the University of Athens, said at the Associated Press.

Up to 4,000 police officers were ready to take up their duties in Athens for the Pope’s visit, and authorities have banned protests and large public gatherings in parts of central Athens over the weekend.

The Pope’s visit ends Monday.


Theodora Tongas in Athens contributed. ___ Follow Winfield on and Gatopoulos on


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