Pope's Pilgimage: John Paul II In Greece
Transcripts from Vatican Website
In this item...
1. WELCOME CEREMONY AT THE PRESIDENTIAL PALACE OF ATHENS
2. ADDRESS OF JOHN PAUL II TO HIS BEATITUDE CHRISTODOULOS, ARCHBISHOP OF ATHENS AND PRIMATE OF GREECE
INCLUDING APOLOGY: "Clearly there is a need for a liberating process of purification of memory. For the occasions past and present, when sons and daughters of the Catholic Church have sinned by action or omission against their Orthodox brothers and sisters, may the Lord grant us the forgiveness we beg of him."
3. ADDRESS OF JOHN PAUL II TO THE
CATHOLIC BISHOPS OF GREECE
4. COMMON DECLARATION OF POPE JOHN PAUL II AND HIS BEATITUDE CHRISTODOULOS, ARCHBISHOP OF ATHENS AND ALL GREECE, BEFORE THE BEMA OF ST. PAUL, THE APOSTLE TO THE NATIONS
5. MASS AT THE SPORT PALACE IN THE COMPLEX OF THE OLYMPIC CENTRE OF ATHENS - HOMILY OF JOHN PAUL II
WELCOME CEREMONY AT THE PRESIDENTIAL PALACE OF ATHENS
ADDRESS OF THE HOLY FATHER
Friday, 4 May 2001
1. I thank you for your kind words of welcome. I am deeply grateful for this opportunity to greet you, and through you to offer a cordial greeting to the members of the Government and of the Diplomatic Missions. I have happy memories, Mr President, of your visit to the Vatican last January, and I thank you for your invitation to come to Greece. Through you I likewise extend heartfelt greetings to all the people of your country. My wish is in some way to recognize the great debt which we all owe to Greece; in fact no one can be unaware of the enduring influence that her unique history and culture have had on European civilization and indeed on that of the entire world.
Last year, Christians everywhere celebrated the two thousandth anniversary of the birth of Jesus Christ. I had a deep desire to mark that event by becoming a pilgrim to some of the places connected with the history of salvation. This desire became a reality in my pilgrimage to Sinai and to the Holy Land. Now it is to Greece that I come as a pilgrim, in the footsteps of Saint Paul, whose mighty figure towers over the two millennia of Christian history and whose memory is etched for ever in the soil of Greece. It was here in Athens that Paul founded one of the first communities of his voyages in the West and of his mission on the European continent. Here he worked tirelessly to make Christ known; here he suffered for the proclamation of the Gospel. And how could we not recall that it was here in the city of Athens that there began the dialogue between the Christian message and Hellenistic culture, a dialogue which would decisively shape European civilization?
2. Long before the Christian era, the influence of Greece was felt far and wide. In Biblical literature, the later books of the Old Testament, some of which were written in the Greek language, were profoundly marked by Hellenistic culture. The Greek translation of the Old Testament, known as the Septuagint, had a great influence in Antiquity. The world that Jesus himself entered and knew was already deeply imbued with Greek culture. The New Testament was written in Greek, with the result that it spread rapidly. But it was much more than a simple matter of language, for the early Christians also drew upon Greek culture in order to transmit the Gospel message.
Certainly the first encounters of Christianity and high Greek culture were difficult. One indication of this is the reception accorded to Paul when he preached at the Areopagus (cf. Acts 17:16-34). While corresponding to the profound expectation of the Athenian people in search of the true God, Paul did not find it easy to preach Christ who had died and was risen, and to show that in Christ is to be found the full meaning of life and the goal of all religious experience. It would fall to the first Apologists, like the martyr Saint Justin, to show that a fruitful encounter between reason and faith was possible.
3. Once the initial distrust was overcome, Christian writers began to see in Greek culture an ally rather than an enemy, and there emerged great centres of Christian Hellenism throughout the Mediterranean world.
Reading the learned writings of Augustine of Hippo and Dionysius the Areopagite, we see that Christian theology and mysticism drew elements from the dialogue with Platonic philosophy. Writers like Gregory of Nazianzus, steeped in Greek rhetoric, were able to create a Christian literature worthy of its classical antecedents. Gradually, then, the Hellenistic world became Christian, and Christianity became to a certain extent Greek. Then there came to birth the Byzantine culture of the East and the Medieval culture of the West, both deeply imbued with Christian faith and Greek culture. And how could we not mention the approach of Saint Thomas who, in rereading the works of Aristotle, proposed a masterly theological and philosophical synthesis?
Raphael’s painting "The School of Athens" in the Vatican Palace makes clear the contribution of the school of Athens to the art and culture of the Renaissance, a period which led to a great exchange between classical Athens and the culture of Christian Rome.
4. Hellenistic culture is characterized by its attention to the education of the young. Plato insisted on the need to train the mind of the young to seek the good and the honourable, as well as to respect the principles of divine law. How many Greek philosophers and writers, beginning with Socrates, Aeschylus and Sophocles, invited their contemporaries to live "in accordance with the virtues"! Saints Basil and John Chrysostom did not neglect to praise the value of the Greek educational tradition, for its concern to develop the moral sense of young people and to help them to choose freely what is good.
The fundamental elements of this long tradition remain valid for the people, including the young people, of our own time. Among the most sure elements are the moral aspects contained in the Hippocratic Oath, which emphasizes the principle of unconditional respect for human life in the maternal womb.
Greece is also the country in which two great sporting traditions, the Olympic Games and the Marathon, were born. Through these competitions a significant conception of the human person is expressed, in the harmony of the spiritual and bodily dimensions, through disciplined effort, marked by moral and civic values. We can only rejoice that to see that these competitions perdure and continue to create close bonds among the peoples of the world.
5. The inculturation of the Gospel in the Greek world remains an example for all inculturation. In its relations with Greek culture, the proclamation of the Gospel had to make a careful discernment, in order to receive and evaluate all its positive elements, and at the same time to reject aspects which are incompatible with the Christian message. In this we have a permanent challenge for the proclamation of the Gospel, in its encounter with the various cultures and with the process of globalization. All of this calls us to engage in respectful and honest dialogue, and requires a new solidarity which evangelical love is capable of inspiring, bringing to fulfilment the Greek ideal of the cosmopolis in a world which is truly united and imbued with justice and fraternity.
We are in a decisive period of European history, and I hope most fervently that the Europe now emerging will rediscover this long tradition of encounter between Greek culture and Christianity in fresh and imaginative ways, not as the vestige of a vanished world but as the true basis for the genuinely human progress that our world seeks.
Carved on the façade of the Temple in Delphi were the words "Know yourself"; I appeal therefore to Europe to know herself ever more deeply. Such self-knowledge will come only in so far as Europe explores afresh the roots of her identity, roots which reach deep into the classical Hellenistic patrimony and into the Christian heritage which brought to birth a humanism based upon the vision of every human person as created in the image and likeness of God.
6. Geography and history have set your country, Mr President, between East and West, and this means that Greece’s natural vocation is to build bridges and a culture of dialogue. Today this is essential for Europe’s future. Many walls have been broken down in recent times, but others remain. The task of integrating the Eastern and Western parts of Europe remains complex; and there is still much to be done to bring harmony between the Christians of East and West, so that the Church can breathe with both her lungs. All believers should see themselves as having a duty to work for this objective. The Catholic Church in Greece desires to share loyally in this noble cause, which also has positive effects in the social sphere. From this point of view, a significant contribution is made by the schools in which the younger generation is trained. Schools are par excellence places where the integration of young people of different backgrounds takes place. The Catholic Church, in harmony with the other Churches and religious confessions, desires to cooperate with all citizens for the education of the young. She wishes to continue her long educational experience in your country, especially through the activities of the Marist Brothers and the Brothers of the Christian Schools, the Ursuline Sisters and the Sisters of Saint Joseph. These different religious families have shown that, with tact and respect for the cultural traditions of the young people entrusted to them, they are able to educate men and women to be true Greeks among the Greeks.
At the end of our meeting, I once more thank you most warmly, Mr President, for your welcome, and at the same time I express my gratitude to all who have made possible my pilgrimage in the footsteps of Saint Paul. I ask God to bestow upon the people of your country his abundant blessings, so that in the third millennium Greece may continue to offer new and wonderful gifts to the continent of Europe and to the family of nations!
ADDRESS OF JOHN
TO HIS BEATITUDE CHRISTODOULOS,
ARCHBISHOP OF ATHENS AND PRIMATE OF GREECE
Friday, 4 May 2001
Venerable Members of the Holy Synod,
Most Reverend Bishops of the Orthodox Church of Greece,
1. In the joy of Easter, I greet you with the words of the Apostle Paul to the Church in Thessalonica: "May the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times and in every way" (2 Th 3:16).
It gives me great pleasure to meet Your Beatitude in this Primatial See of the Orthodox Church of Greece. I offer heartfelt greetings to the members of the Holy Synod and all the hierarchy. I salute the clergy, the monastic communities and the lay faithful throughout this noble land. Peace be with you all!
2. I wish first of all to express to you the affection and regard of the Church of Rome. Together we share the apostolic faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour; we have in common the apostolic heritage and the sacramental bond of Baptism; and therefore we are all members of God’s family, called to serve the one Lord and to proclaim his Gospel to the world. The Second Vatican Council called on Catholics to regard the members of the other Churches "as brothers and sisters in the Lord" (Unitatis Redintegratio, 3), and this supernatural bond of brotherhood between the Church of Rome and the Church of Greece is strong and abiding.
Certainly, we are burdened by past and present controversies and by enduring misunderstandings. But in a spirit of mutual charity these can and must be overcome, for that is what the Lord asks of us. Clearly there is a need for a liberating process of purification of memory. For the occasions past and present, when sons and daughters of the Catholic Church have sinned by action or omission against their Orthodox brothers and sisters, may the Lord grant us the forgiveness we beg of him.
Some memories are especially painful, and some events of the distant past have left deep wounds in the minds and hearts of people to this day. I am thinking of the disastrous sack of the imperial city of Constantinople, which was for so long the bastion of Christianity in the East. It is tragic that the assailants, who had set out to secure free access for Christians to the Holy Land, turned against their own brothers in the faith. The fact that they were Latin Christians fills Catholics with deep regret. How can we fail to see here the mysterium iniquitatis at work in the human heart? To God alone belongs judgement, and therefore we entrust the heavy burden of the past to his endless mercy, imploring him to heal the wounds which still cause suffering to the spirit of the Greek people. Together we must work for this healing if the Europe now emerging is to be true to its identity, which is inseparable from the Christian humanism shared by East and West.
3. At this meeting, I also wish to assure Your Beatitude that the Church of Rome looks with unaffected admiration to the Orthodox Church of Greece for the way in which she has preserved her heritage of faith and Christian life. The name of Greece resounds wherever the Gospel is preached. The names of her cities are known to Christians everywhere from the reading of the Acts of the Apostles and the Letters of Saint Paul. From the Apostolic era until now, the Orthodox Church of Greece has been a rich source from which the Church of the West too has drawn for her liturgy, spirituality and jurisprudence (cf. Unitatis Redintegratio, 14). A patrimony of the whole Church are the Fathers, privileged interpreters of the apostolic tradition, and the Councils, whose teachings are a binding element of all Christian faith. The universal Church can never forget what Greek Christianity has given her, nor cease to give thanks for the enduring influence of the Greek tradition.
The Second Vatican Council stressed to Catholics the Orthodox love of the liturgy, through which the faithful "enter into communion with the Most Holy Trinity and become sharers in the divine nature" (Unitatis Redintegratio,15). In offering liturgical worship pleasing to God through the centuries, in preaching the Gospel even in dark and difficult times, in presenting an unfailing didaskalia, inspired by the Scriptures and the great Tradition of the Church, the Orthodox Church of Greece has brought forth a host of saints who intercede for all God’s People before the Throne of Grace. In the saints we see the ecumenism of holiness which, with God’s help, will eventually draw us into full communion, which is neither absorption nor fusion but a meeting in truth and love (cf. Slavorum Apostoli, 27).
4. Finally, Your Beatitude, I wish to express the hope that we may walk together in the ways of the Kingdom of God. In 1965, the Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras and Pope Paul VI by a mutual act removed and cancelled from the Church’s memory and life the sentence of excommunication between Rome and Constantinople. This historic gesture stands as a summons for us to work ever more fervently for the unity which is Christ’s will. Division between Christians is a sin before God and a scandal before the world. It is a hindrance to the spread of the Gospel, because it makes our proclamation less credible. The Catholic Church is convinced that she must do all in her power to "prepare the way of the Lord" and to "make straight his paths" (Mt 3:3); and she understands that this must be done in company with other Christians – in fraternal dialogue, in cooperation and in prayer. If certain models of reunion of the past no longer correspond to the impulse towards unity which the Holy Spirit has awakened in Christians everywhere in recent times, we must be all the more open and attentive to what the Spirit is now saying to the Churches (cf. Rev 2:11).
In this Easter season, my mind turns to the encounter on the road to Emmaus. Without knowing it, the two disciples were walking with the Risen Lord, who became their teacher as he interpreted for them the Scriptures, "beginning with Moses and all the prophets" (Lk 24:27). But they did not grasp his teaching at first. Only when their eyes were opened and they recognized him did they understand. Then they acknowledged the power of his words, saying to each other: "Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures?" (Lk 24:32). The quest for reconciliation and full communion means that we too must search the Scriptures, in order to be taught by God (cf. 1 Th 4:9).
Your Beatitude, with faith in Jesus Christ, "the firstborn from the dead" (Col 1:18), and in a spirit of fraternal charity and lively hope, I wish to assure you that the Catholic Church is irrevocably committed to the path of unity with all the Churches. Only in this way will the one People of God shine forth in the world as the sign and instrument of intimate union with God and of the unity of the entire human race (cf. Lumen Gentium, 1).
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 minsters 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 Supper.
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 passed away.
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.
4. COMMON DECLARATION
OF POPE JOHN PAUL II
AND HIS BEATITUDE CHRISTODOULOS,
ARCHBISHOP OF ATHENS AND ALL GREECE,
BEFORE THE BEMA OF ST. PAUL,
THE APOSTLE TO THE NATIONS
We, Pope John Paul II, Bishop of Rome, and Christodoulos, Archbishop of Athens and All Greece, standing before the bema of the Areopagus, from which Saint Paul, the Great Apostle to the Nations, "called to be an Apostle, set apart for the Gospel of God",(1) preached to the Athenians the One True God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and called them unto faith and repentance, do hereby declare:
1. We give thanks to the Lord for our meeting and communication with one another, here in the illustrious City of Athens, the Primatial See of the Apostolic Orthodox Church of Greece.
2. We repeat with one voice and one heart the words of the Apostle to the Nations: "I appeal to you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree and that there be no schisms among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment".(2) We pray that the whole Christian world will heed this exhortation, so that peace may come unto "all those who in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ".(3) We condemn all recourse to violence, proselytism and fanaticism in the name of religion. We especially maintain that relations between Christians, in all their manifestations, should be characterized by honesty, prudence and knowledge of the matters in question.
3. We observe that man's social and scientific evolution has not been accompanied by a deeper delving into the meaning and value of life, which in every instance is a gift of God, nor by an analogous appreciation of man’s unique dignity, as being created according to the Creator’s image and likeness. Moreover, economic and technological development does not belong equally to all mankind but belongs only to a very small portion of it. Furthermore, the improvement of living standards has not brought about the opening of men's hearts to their neighbours who suffer hunger and are naked. We are called to work together for the prevailing of justice, for the relief of the needy and for the ministry unto those who suffer, ever keeping in mind the words of St. Paul: "the kingdom of God does not mean food and drink but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit".(4)
4. We are anguished to see that wars, massacres, torture and martyrdom constitute a terrible daily reality for millions of our brothers. We commit ourselves to struggle for the prevailing of peace throughout the whole world, for the respect of life and human dignity, and for solidarity towards all who are in need. We are pleased to add our voice to the many voices around the world which have expressed the hope that, on the occasion of the Olympic Games to be held in Greece in 2004, the ancient Greek tradition of the Olympic Truce will be revived, according to which all wars had to stop, and terrorism and violence had to cease.
5. We follow carefully and with unease what is referred to as globalization. We hope that it will bear good fruit. However, we wish to point out that its fruits will be harmful if what could be termed the "globalization of brotherhood" in Christ is not achieved in all sincerity and efficacy.
6. We rejoice at the success and progress of the European Union. The union of the European world in one civil entity, without her people losing their national self-awareness, traditions and identity, has been the vision of its pioneers. However, the emerging tendency to transform certain European countries into secular states without any reference to religion constitutes a retraction and a denial of their spiritual legacy. We are called to intensify our efforts so that the unification of Europe may be accomplished. We shall do everything in our power, so that the Christian roots of Europe and its Christian soul may be preserved inviolate.
With this Common Statement, we, Pope John Paul II, Bishop of Rome, and Christodoulos, Archbishop of Athens and All Greece, wish that "our God and Father and our Lord Jesus direct our way, so that we may increase and abound in love towards one another and towards all men and establish the hearts of all unblamable in holiness before our God and Father, at the coming of the Lord Jesus with all his saints".(5) Amen.
Athens, at the Areopagus, 4 May 2001
1. Rom 1:1.
2. 1 Cor 1:10.
3. 1 Cor 1:2.
4. Rom 14:17.
5. Cf. 1 Thess 3:11-13.
5. MASS AT THE SPORT
PALACE IN THE COMPLEX
OF THE OLYMPIC CENTRE OF ATHENS
HOMILY OF JOHN PAUL II
Saturday, 5 May 2001
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
"What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you" (Acts 17:23).
Reported in the Acts of the Apostles, these words that Paul spoke at the Areopagus in Athens represent one of the first proclamations of the Christian faith in Europe. If we consider the role of Greece in the formation of ancient culture, we will understand that this speech by Paul can be considered the very symbol of the encounter of the Gospel with human culture.
"To those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints together with all those who in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, . . .grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!" (1 Cor 1:2,3). Using these words of the Apostle to the community in Corinth, I greet you with affection, all of you, Bishops, priests and lay Catholic faithful living in Greece. I thank first of all His Grace Nikolaus Foscolos, Archbishop of Athens and President of the Episcopal Conference of Greece, for his welcome and cordial greeting. Gathered together this morning for the Eucharistic celebration, we ask the Apostle Paul to give us his fervour in faith and in proclaiming the Gospel to all the Nations, as well as his concern for the unity of the Church. I rejoice in the presence of other Christian confessions at this Divine Liturgy, who thus bear witness to their interest in the life of the Catholic community and to their common brotherhood in Christ.
2. Paul clearly reminds us that we cannot enclose God in our very human ways of seeing or doing. If we wish to welcome the Lord, we are called to conversion. This is the path put before us, the path that enables us to follow Christ in order to live as he did, sons and daughters in the Son. We can therefore re-interpret our personal journey and that of the Church as a Paschal experience. We must be purified in order to enter fully into the divine will, accepting that God, by his grace, transforms our being and our existence, as was the case with Paul, who was transformed from persecutor to missionary (cf. Gal 1:11-24). Thus we pass through the trials of Good Friday, with its sufferings, with its darkness of faith, with its mutual misunderstandings. But we also experience moments of light, like the dawn of Easter Sunday, in which the Risen One communicates to us his joy and leads us to all truth. Viewing our personal history and that of the Church in this way, we cannot fail to live in hope, certain that the Master of history will lead us along paths known to him alone. Let us ask the Holy Spirit to help us to be witnesses to the Good News of God’s love by our words and our actions! For the Spirit inspires missionary fervour in his Church, it is he who calls and sends, and the true apostle is first of all a person who is "tuned in", a servant ready for God’s action.
3. To be here in Athens and to recall the life and work of Paul is to be invited to proclaim the Gospel to the ends of the earth, to put before our contemporaries the salvation wrought by Christ, showing them the ways of holiness and of an upright moral life which is the response to the Lord’s call. The Gospel is universal good news which all peoples can understand.
Speaking to the Athenians, Saint Paul wishes to hide nothing of the faith which he has received; like every apostle, he must carefully guard the deposit of faith (cf. 2 Tim 1:14). If begins with references that are familiar to his listeners and their way of thinking, and this so that they may better understand the Gospel that he has come to bring them. Paul depends on the natural knowledge of God and on the deep spiritual desire present in his audience in order to prepare them to receive the revelation of the one and true God.
If, to the Athenians, he was able to quote ancient classical authors, the reason is that, in a certain way, his own personal culture had been fashioned by Hellenism. He therefore used his own training to proclaim the Gospel in words that would make an impression on his listeners (cf. Acts 17:17). What a lesson! In order to proclaim the Good News to the men and women of our time, the Church must be attentive to their cultures and their ways of communicating, without allowing the Gospel message to be altered or its meaning or scope diminished. "In the Third Millennium, Christianity will have to respond more effectively to this need for inculturation" (Novo Millennio Ineunte, 40). Paul’s masterful speech invites Christ’s disciples to enter into a truly missionary dialogue with their contemporaries, with respect for what they are, but at the same time with a clear and forceful presentation of the Gospel, together with its implications and demands in people’s lives.
5. Brothers and sisters, your country enjoys a long tradition of wisdom and humanism. Since the beginnings of Christianity, philosophers have taken on the task of "bringing to light the link between reason and religion . . . This opened a path which took its rise from ancient traditions but allowed a development satisfying the demands of universal reason" (Fides et Ratio, 36). This work done by philosophers and the early Christian apologists made it possible afterwards — following Saint Paul and his speech in Athens — for Christian faith and philosophy to engage in a fruitful dialogue.
It is important to create opportunities for dialogue with our contemporaries, using the example of Saint Paul and the first communities, especially where the future of mankind and humanity is at stake. In this way, decisions will not be guided only by political or economic interests unaware of the dignity of persons and the obligations deriving from that dignity. Rather there will be a spiritual element present, reminding people of every individual’s high position and dignity. The "areopagi" that today call out for the witness of Christians are many (cf. Redemptoris Missio, 37); and I encourage you to be present to the world. Like the Prophet Isaiah, Christians have been placed as watchmen on the summit of the walls (cf. Is 21:11-12), to discern the human consequences of present situations, to discern the seeds of hope within society, and to show the world the light of Easter that illuminates with the radiance of a new day all human realities.
Cyril and Methodius, the two Brothers from Salonika, understood the call of the Risen One: "Go into all the world and preach the Gospel to the whole creation" (Mk 16:15). Having departed for the encounter with the Slav peoples, they brought them the Gospel in their own language. They "not only carried out their mission with full respect for the culture already existing among the Slav peoples, but together with religion they eminently and unceasingly promoted and extended that culture" (Slavorum Apostoli, 26). May their example and prayer help us to respond ever more effectively to the demands of inculturation and to rejoice in the beauty of the multiform face of Christ’s Church!
6. In his personal experience as a believer and in his ministry as an Apostle, Paul understood that Christ alone was the way of salvation, he who, by his grace, reconciles people among themselves and with God. "For he is our peace, who has made us both one, and has broken down the dividing wall of hostility" (Eph 2:14). The Apostle then became the defender of unity, within communities as well as between them, consumed as he was with "concern for all the Churches" (2 Cor 11:28)!
Passion for the unity of the Church must be a mark of all Christ’s disciples. "Unhappily, as we cross the threshold of the new millennium, we take with us the sad heritage of the past . . . there is still a long way to go" (Novo Millennio Ineunte, 48). But that must not discourage us; our love of the Lord impels us to be ever more involved in work for unity. In order to take new steps in this direction, it is important to "start afresh from Christ" (cf. Novo Millennio Ineunte, 29).
"It is on Jesus’s prayer and not on our own strength that we base the hope that even within history we shall be able to reach full and visible communion with all Christians . . . May the memory of the time when the Church breathed with ‘both lungs’ spur Christians of East and West to walk together in unity of faith and with respect for legitimate diversity, accepting and sustaining each other as members of the one Body of Christ" (Novo Millennio Ineunte, 48)!
The Virgin Mary, by her prayer and maternal presence, accompanied the life and mission of the first Christian community, gathered around the Apostles (cf. Acts 1:14). With them, she received the Spirit at Pentecost! May she watch over the path that we must now walk in order to move towards full unity with our brethren of the East and in order to fulfil with one another, in openness and enthusiasm, the mission that Christ has entrusted to his Church. May the Virgin Mary — so venerated in your country and most especially in her island shrines, such as the Virgin of the Annunciation on the island of Tinos, and under the title of Our Lady of Mercy at Faneromeni, on Syros — lead us always to her Son Jesus (cf. Jn 2:5). He is the Christ, he is the Son of God, "the true light that enlightens every man" by coming into the world (cf. Jn 1:9).
Strengthened in the hope that comes to us from Christ, and sustained by the fraternal prayer of those who have gone before us in faith, let us continue our earthly pilgrimage as true messengers of the Good News, filled with joy at the Easter praise that is in our hearts and wishing to share it with all people:
"Praise the Lord, all
Extol him, all peoples!
For great is his steadfast love towards us;
and the faithfulness of the Lord endures for ever!" (Ps 117).