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Big News: The Pope On Tour

We Don’t Need Infallible Papal Pilgrims – Orthodox Church

Well, the Papal visit to Greece, Syria and Malta has ended, and what a tumultuous trip it was for the 81 –year old pontiff. Although the majority of the mainstream media has hailed it as successful and worthy, which it was, there are a few things that they have not commented on.

Like the fact that the Pope went to Greece, then Syria, then Malta. In that order. Greece is primarily filled with the catholic-hating Orthodox church, Syria is Muslim, and Malta is 98 percent Pope-loving Catholic. Get the hard bit over and done with first seemed to be the trick, and have Masses (of fun) in Malta before heading home to the Vatican.

The Pope was not invited to Greece by the church, but by the Greek government. The government was keen to see smoother relations between the Orthodox and Catholic Churches even though they don’t officially recognise the Catholic Church in Greece. It was the first papal visit for 1291 years. Orthodox leaders refused to meet him at the airport, and Orthodox Archbishop Christodoulos only met the Pope under pressure from the government, then refused to pray with him or open a doctrinal debate – although they did recite the Lords Prayer together. When they first met they didn’t even speak the same language – the Archbishop used Greek and the Pope, English. Very frosty stuff – you can imagine the squinting of Orthodox eyes and the drooping of the papal head. As Vatican and Orthodox clergy tensely sat fanning their perspective brows with paper, the Archbishop demanded a papal apology for the schism that split the Catholic and Orthodox world in 1054, the Crusader’s sacking of Constantinople in 1204, and the partition of Cyprus following the Turkish invasion on 1974, and a whole diatribe of other injustices.

The Pope responded with the first Papal apology there in 800 years – but he sincerely apologised without saying sorry. He offered “deep regret” for the Crusades, which sounds a bit like the original US apology to China, and Aussie Prime Minister John Howard’s “apology” to the Aboriginal stolen generation. What’s wrong with saying “sorry” when asking for forgiveness? Mind you, the Pope chose his words carefully. He asked for forgiveness of the sins of individual Christians, not forgiveness from the Catholic Church. That’s because Catholic theology treats the Church as a divine and sinless entity, although we all know that’s bollocks.

The Pope said nothing about Cyprus. He also made no concrete statements on the Eastern Catholic controversy, which is one of the main obstacles to official dialogue between the two churches. Eastern Catholic churches celebrate Orthodox liturgy and are seen by the Orthodox Church as a Vatican ploy to entice Orthodox Christians into the Roman Catholic Church. However the two leaders did sign a declaration condemning violence and fanaticism in the name of religion but it wasn’t enough for the Orthodox leader to accept a tea invitation from the Pope. “After all this, you just can’t have dinner together,” he said.

The majority of the Orthodox church was fuming over the visit of the infallible papal pilgrim, with billboards reading “out with the Pope” and “two-horned heretic”, while the 45,000 Greek Catholics silently welcomed the visit of their leader. It may have been a positive trip to Greece, with the Pope opening windows between the two churches. However he closed others by his silence and his refusal to continue theological dialogue, which is the stiffest obstacle to overcome.

Leaving the Orthodox Christians behind, the Pope hit the Muslims and got on a bit better with them. He became the first Pope to enter a mosque, let alone offer a silent prayer in it, after becoming the first Pope to enter a Jewish synagogue in 1986. The Grand Umayyad Mosque in Damascus was once a Christian church and is believed to hold the body of John the Baptist. It is sacred to both religions. But the Muslims refused to allow a joint Christian-Muslim inter faith prayer in the mosque, so there was still a bit of tension. Clearly the Pope wants to bring peace to all the monotheistic religions, but I suspect the Vatican will have a few problems allowing a Muslim leader say a prayer at St Peters Basicilla, something not lost to Muslim leaders. Muslims had hoped for an apology of 1000 –year-old sins. However the Pope refused, leaving the issue to God and individual consciences. What he did say was that Christians (not the Church) and Muslims need to forgive one another for sins of the past. He also opened dialogue between the two faiths. The Vatican has even opened a division working on Catholic- Muslim relations, despite their difficulties with ecumenical relations with the “not proper church” denominations within Christendom.

Finally the Pope ran into the comforting arms of his faithful followers in Malta, just as St Paul was welcomed by the Maltese when he was shipwrecked on the island many years ago. Malta is now a Catholic country where divorce and abortion are illegal and, presumably, nobody uses contraceptives. Tens of thousands lined the route of the Papal pope mobile in Malta, compared with nobody in Greece about five days prior.

During the six-day tour the Pope travelled the steps of St Paul as he spread the gospel in the early church. He may not have got shipwrecked at Malta, but he got a lot more media coverage than the Apostle ever did. He appeared to get on with the Muslims better than the Christian Orthodox leaders, but it remains to be seen how the “globalist apostle” will get on with the Russian Orthodox Church as they join forces with the Greek Orthodox church in opposing the pope’s visit to the Ukraine next month. It’s a gruelling schedule, hes getting on a bit, but at 81, he is still younger than many of the cardinals in Britain.

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