POPE QUIETLY LEAVES GREECE; WARM WELCOME IN SYRIA

DAMASCUS, May 5, 01 (CWNews.com) - After celebrating Mass in Athens, Pope John Paul II left Greece on Saturday for the flight to Syria and a formal greeting at the airport there.
The Pope's departure from Greece was quiet-in keeping with the low-key tone of his visit to that country. In marked contrast to the usual pattern of papal visits, there was no formal departure ceremony at the airport. Greek  
government officials did not make speeches because the country's protocol insists that all such ceremonies take place at the presidential palace. Officials of the Greek Orthodox Church did not offer farewells because they have been notably cool toward the Pope's visit-although the regrets which John Paul expressed on Friday helped to ease tensions between the Catholic and Orthodox churches in Greece.
When he arrived in Syria after a two-hour flight, the Pope was received warmly, in a ceremony that was dramatically different from his quiet arrival in Greece. Syria's President Bashar Al-Assad came to the airport to greet him and offer an exchange of formal addresses, and a number of religious leaders-Catholic and Orthodox-participated in the public ceremony.
In his own remarks, the Pontiff said that he came to Syria as "a pilgrim of faith." He reminded listeners that he is concluding his Jubilee pilgrimage by following the footsteps of St. Paul, "whose life was changed forever on the road to Damascus." And although today Syria is a predominantly Muslim land, he emphasized the deep Christian cultural heritage of the country, and "the magnificent contribution of Syria... to the history of Christianity." 
The Pope also made reference to the continuing conflict in the Middle East, and stressed the consistent demand of the Holy See for adherence to the principles and resolutions approved by the United Nations. (The Vatican has frequently pointed out that Israel's occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, and treatment of the Palestinian population, is in violation of UN principles and resolutions.) The Pope concluded his remarks on the topic by expressing his hope that "force will give way to dialogue, and a genuine desire to serve the common good will prevail." 
Before leaving Greece, the Holy Father had celebrated Mass in the Spata stadium outside Athens,with a congregation of about 18,000 people. The Catholic bishops of Greece concelebrated the
Mass. 
In his homily in Athens, the Pope made an indirect reference to the tensions that had marked his contacts with the Greek Orthodox Church. He spoke of St. Paul-who had firstpreached to the pagans of Athens from the Areopagus-as a "defender of unity" in the Church. ThePope went on: "The passion for unity in the Church must be a mark of all Christ's disciples." 

The ecumenical difficulties that formed the single most noteworthy feature of the Pope's visit to Greece are not likely to be visible in Syria, where Catholic and Orthodox leaders are generally quite friendly. Instead, the Pope will encounter more evidence of the enduring political conflicts in the Middle East

 

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