ADDRESS OF JOHN PAUL II TO THE CATHOLIC BISHOPS OF GREECE
Friday, 4 May 2001
Dear Catholic Bishops of Greece!
1. This meeting is particularly important and significant to me, and so I have looked forward to it
with lively anticipation. It is to you that I am linked by the closest bonds of communion. In the
strictest sense of the word, you are my family in Greece, and it is because of this closeness that I
would now like to speak to you from the depths of my heart.
First, I wish to express my paternal and fraternal affection, together with my sincere admiration for
you who shepherd the flock of the Catholic Church, frequently in very difficult conditions. Often you
care for communities which are small and scattered, and you are their Pastors in the truest sense of
the word. By your person and your ministry you strengthen the bond of visible unity, you give voice
to the preaching of the Word, and you are the primary ministers of sacramental life for the Catholic
communities of this country. Precisely because of the efforts required to maintain these contacts,
you are particularly loved by your faithful and your visits are a source of great spiritual joy. This
itinerant Episcopal ministry of yours in some way takes us back to the earliest days of Christianity, a
period to which this land of Greece is a living witness.
2. To our brothers and sisters of the Orthodox Church dwelling in this land we are united by a
powerful bond of faith in our common Lord. How we wish that all hearts were open and all arms
outspread to welcome our fraternal greeting of peace! How we dream that the Pastors of this noble
country, whether members of the Orthodox or the Catholic Church, could overcome the difficulties
of the past and with courage and a spirit of charity face the challenges of the present, with a sense of
common responsibility for the one Church of Christ and its credibility in the eyes of the world!
If historical events in the past, events linked to ways of thinking and acting typical of their times,
have been a source of conflict and division, Christians must consider memory above all the
sanctuary where the living witness of the Risen Lord is preserved. It is memory which gives rise to
Tradition, to which our Churches owe so much. To memory is also entrusted the Sacrament which
is the guarantee of efficacious grace: "Do this in memory of me", the Lord exhorts us at the Last
For Christians, memory is too lofty and noble a sanctuary to be defiled by human sin. Certainly, sin
can painfully damage the fabric of memory, but it cannot tear it asunder: that fabric is like the
seamless garment of the Lord Jesus, which no one dared to divide.
Dear Brothers, let us spare no effort in making it possible for memory once again to illuminate the
great things which God has done for us. Let us lift our gaze from human pettiness and sin, and let us
contemplate in heaven the throne of the Lamb, where the eternal liturgy of praise is chanted by men
and women of every people and race, clothed in white robes. There they contemplate the face of
God, no longer "per speculum et in aenigmate", but as it is in reality. There, on high, memory
gives way to fullness, and there are no more tears, nor death, because the former things have
3. You are "frontier" Bishops: because of the particular conditions in which you are living, you
greatly desire the obstacles which stand in the way of full union, and which cause such suffering for
you and your faithful, to be quickly overcome. And so, as you assert your just rights, you urge the
Catholic Church, at times impatiently, to take steps capable of revealing with ever greater clarity the
common foundations which unite the ancient Churches of Christ.
I am grateful for this passionate concern, which is a sign of great generosity. I assure you that I
share the same fervent desire that the unity of the Church may be seen, as quickly as possible, in all
its fullness. I likewise agree with you that there must be a continuation of the efforts, forcefully stated
and encouraged by the Second Vatican Council, by which the Catholic Church herself strives, in her
own daily life, to be ever more concerned to lay the foundations for better understanding with her
brothers and sisters of the other Churches. These other Churches, in the meantime, must not fail to
do their part in the quest for communion.
Nonetheless, you know well that much time is required for situations to mature, for prudent
rapprochement to take place, and honest and continued dialogue to develop. This calls for the
patience born of charity, so that clergy and faithful can appropriate and gradually accept the
changes that are necessary, to understand the reasons behind them, and to promote them
personally. Nor must it be forgotten that, after the painful divisions of the past, the Catholic Church
has had experiences of her own and clarified certain aspects of the faith in a specific way.
The Holy Spirit asks that we revisit all of this and that new forms – or perhaps ancient forms
rediscovered – may be adopted, but in the certainty that nothing of the deposit of faith will be lost or
even obscured. This twofold effort of openness and fidelity has been the inspiration of my papal
ministry. I am certain that it is also at the basis of your desires and aspirations.
4. During your ad Limina Visit in 1999, I offered certain specific proposals, including some of a
pastoral nature, which I do not think need to be repeated here: these proposals still appear valid to
me, and they can serve as a point of reference in your service of the faithful entrusted to your care.
What I wish to emphasize today is that the Pope is here, with you, in this very land, in order to
demonstrate a solidarity which is also physical, a genuine and affectionate esteem, and an unfailing
remembrance in his thoughts and prayers.
I would like to be able to meet individually the beloved sons and daughters of the Catholic Church.
My pilgrimage in the footsteps of Saint Paul has enabled me to meet living communities. I rejoice to
be able to pray with them and to celebrate our communion in the Risen One and with one another.
With you I wish to embrace in particular the priests and deacons who preserve, nourish and
strengthen in faith and charity the communities entrusted to their care, together with the men and
women Religious, whose presence is essential for the Catholic Church in Greece. May we never
forget that these lands of ancient witness are sanctuaries of faith, and that we are called to draw
from the treasures of the past the spiritual strength to carry out our ministry in the world today.
It is my hope that young people will face with confidence the journey of the new Greece, ever more
fully integrated into Europe, ever more cosmopolitan, and therefore necessarily open to dialogue
and to the recognition of the rights of all, yet at the same time exposed to the dangers of an
unbridled secularization, which tends to drain the lifeblood that gives refreshment to the soul and
hope to the human person. I wish the elderly and the sick, who are particularly close to the Lord’s
Cross, to feel the fraternal concern of the whole Church.
5. Dearly beloved Brothers, in the variety of your pastoral and liturgical ministry, you make present
the diversity in unity typical of the Catholic Church. And the whole Catholic Church expresses to
you today, in my person, her solidarity and love. Never feel alone, never lose hope: the Lord
certainly holds unexpected consolations in store for those who trust in him. Work together in
harmony, with gentleness and charity, courageous in the truth.
Know that the Pope remembers you and your work daily in his prayer, which from this day forward
is strengthened by the joy of this meeting.
With affection I impart to you and to your communities my Apostolic Blessing.