Greek Church Vows to Stand by People During Hard Times

The Church of Greece vowed to stand by their countrymen during the difficult times ahead while the debt-beleaguered European nation prepares to receive an unprecedented 110 billion euro bailout.

In a meeting with Prime Minister George Papandreou on Tuesday, the Archbishop of Athens Hieronymos II told the primate that the church would stand by the "battered Greek people" and urged "unity, strength and optimism," according to the state-run Athens News Agency.

 The Rev. Fr. Gabriel Papanicolaou, who was attending an ecumenical meeting in Geneva organized by the World Council of Churches (WCC), told the WCC news service that "the church is ready to assist in any possible way.

"As a church we need to bring hope to the people," Papanicolaou explained. "But we also are preparing to supply food, clothes and other relief items, as well as to care for the needs of the people who lose their jobs, assist them with pastoral and psychological attention. The church will stand by the people as it always has."

The church leaders' remarks came as Greece finalized a package of tough austerity measures yesterday that included wage cuts for public workers, a three-year freeze on pensions, and increases in sales taxes and the prices of fuel, alcohol and tobacco.

According to news reports, as a consequence of the measures, the Greek economy is forecast to shrink 4 percent this year and 2.6 percent in 2011.

The new policies brought demonstrators out again despite violent protests a day earlier which left three people dead.

On May 5, three people died in the Greek capital Athens during a firebomb attack against a bank at the height of massive trade union protests. The previous day, Greek civil servants had shut down schools and hospitals and disrupted flights as they protested against additional wage cuts and tax increases unveiled by the government this week.

In a statement expressing "deepest grief for the tragic loss" of lives, Hieronymos said: "Legitimate protest is totally different from cruel violence that leads to murders," adding that Greeks need wisdom and national unanimity "more than ever before".

For that WCC, part of that wisdom includes a reconsideration of the global financial system.

"Many in the ecumenical movement have long been warning about the consequences of the current global financial system", said Dr Rogate Mshana, WCC director of Justice, Diakonia and Responsibility for Creation. "If there are no changes, this system can only produce debt crisis, financial bubbles and economic crashes."

For Mshana, the ecumenical and ethical perspectives that emphasize justice over greed are the beginning of a possible way out of the current vicious financial circle.

"The whole financial system as we know it today needs to be dismantled and new rules be put in place", Mshana said. "We need a new global financial architecture, one that is equitable and sustainable and able to connect the finances with the real economy."

Mshana's remarks were echoed by Papanicolaou, who noted that the church's role includes reminding the faithful of essential values which help build social cohesion.

"This isn't just an economic or financial crisis, but also a crisis of values," Papnicolaou. "We need to recover the spirit of humbleness."

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