In Athens speech, Pope Francis regrets global 'retreat from democracy'

(Photo: Vatican News)Pope Francis and President Katerina Sakellaropoulou of Greece on Dec. 4, 2022.

Pope Francis has lamented a global "retreat from democracy" making a speech in Athens, the cradle of Western civilization.

The Pope spoke to political leaders, representatives of civil society, and members of the diplomatic corps at the Greek Presidential Palace on Dec. 4, Catholic News Agency reported.

He spoke hours after arriving from the island of Cyprus in a visit that will highlight refugees and migrants and ties with the Greek Orthodox Church.

"Here democracy was born. That cradle, thousands of years later, was to become a house, a great house of democratic peoples," said Francis.

"I am speaking of the European Union and the dream of peace and fraternity that it represents for so many peoples," Francis said.

"Yet we cannot avoid noting with concern how today, and not only in Europe; we are witnessing a retreat from democracy."

"Without Athens and without Greece, Europe and the world would not be what they are. They would be less wise, less happy," noted the Pope.

The Acropolis, and Mounts Olympus and Athos, point high towards God, for we need transcendence in order to be truly human, he explained according to Vatican News.

The Gospels were written in Greek, the language of human wisdom which became the voice of divine Wisdom, he added.

Francis said people should beware of politicians with "an obsessive quest for popularity, in a thirst for visibility, in a flurry of unrealistic promises...," Reuters News agency reported.

The Pope hoped that strengthened democracy everywhere "may be the response to the siren songs of authoritarianism; and that individualism and indifference may be overcome by concern for others, for the poor and for creation."

Pope Francis also touched upon life and death issues.

He recalled that part of the oath of Hippocrates of ancient Greece, regarded as the "Father of Medicine", can be applied to our time, regarding life, especially of the unborn.

"The right of all to care and treatment," said Francis, "must always be respected, so that those most vulnerable, particularly the elderly, may never be discarded."

"For life is a right, not death. Death is to be accepted, not administered," he stressed.

Pope Francis arrived in Greece after a two-day visit to Cyprus, an island in the eastern Mediterranean Sea.

In a packed itinerary, he met Cypriot authorities, Orthodox bishops, local Catholics, and migrants, as well as celebrating Mass in the country's largest stadium.


The 84-year-old pope's three days in neighboring Greece will be equally frenetic, with scheduled meetings with Orthodox leaders, the Catholic community, local member of his order, the Jesuits, migrants on the island of Lesbos, and young people.

Relations with the Greek Orthodox Church to which 90 percent of the population belongs are important, because the first schism in the Catholic Church happened in the 1053 long before the next big split during the Protestant Reformation.

Archbishop Ieronymos II of Athens and All Greece welcomed Pope Francis to the Orthodox Archbishopric of Greece in Athens.

Pope Francis acknowledged how tragically "world concerns poisoned us" and led to divisions among Christians.

He said, "Shamefully – I acknowledge this for the Catholic Church – actions and decisions that had little or nothing to do with Jesus and the Gospel, but were instead marked by a thirst for advantage and power, gravely weakened our communion."

The Pope added, "I feel the need to ask anew for the forgiveness of God and of our brothers and sisters for the mistakes committed by many Catholics."

The Pope made a daylong visit to Lesbos on April 16, 2016, after which he took 12 refugees back to the Vatican.

He is the first pope to visit mainland Greece since John Paul II, who in May 2001 became the first pontiff to visit the country in 1,291 years.

Greece, officially known as the Hellenic Republic, is a predominantly Orthodox Christian country of 10.7 million people, around 50,000 of whom are Roman Catholic.

Pope Francis on Saturday urged Greece and Europe to work for a renewed humanity by lifting their gaze to God and showing concern for others, the poor and for creation.

Asylum-seekers fleeing war and poverty-hit homelands in the Middle East, Asia and Africa use Greece as a main entry points into the European Union.

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