Greece “is struggling but it is also determined to break the shackles of an economic and financial crisis that brought it to its knees”, the Catholic Archbishop of Athens has affirmed.

“Significant signs of change and renewal”

“The efforts for recovery are not over. But we see significant signs of change and renewal such as the recent election of magistrate Ekaterini Sakellaropoulou, the nation’s first female President”, Archbishop Sevastianos Rossolatos, who is also the President of the Greek Catholic Bishops, told SIR February 11.

The election of Sakellaropoulou, the Catholic Archbishop of Athens said, “is a positive sign for the entire country, indicating that the time is ripe and that Greek society is in the process of opening up”.

The appointment of the new president “is conducive to reuniting the country”, said the Catholic Archbishop of Athens.

“It’s an important step along the path of recovery. In order to overcome the crisis once and for all we must recognize the value of every competent person”.

“Our tax burden exceeds 50%, greatly diminishing our pastoral activities”

But the economic and financial crisis that punched Greece so hard in 2007-2008 is far from over, the Catholic Archbishop of Athens said, deploring the fact that “hundreds of thousands of unemployed Greeks are struggling to make a living”.

It’s not the only challenge the Greek Catholic Church faces, either, fenced in as it is by “relations with the Orthodox Church, taxes, incoming migrants and refugees fleeing war, shortage of funds to support our mission”, as Rossolatos mentioned.

Paradoxically, though, and amidst all the trials the archbishop spoke of “increasing numbers of believers” flooding the Catholic churches in Greece.

“In the last 30 years… the Greek Catholic Church grew from 50,000 to about 300,000 faithful… 75% of whom are immigrants, 25% Greeks”, with respect to a total population of almost 11 million people, Rossolatos explained, adding: “This increase is changing the face of the local Church”.

Poles, Romanians, Italians, Filipino, various African communities… around half the Catholic priests in Athens are from abroad, but there’s still the problem of trying to find clerics to say Masses in the other different languages spoken in a truly multicultural society.

The influx of priests “is a positive sign, but there is a need for priests who speak the language of migrants”, Rossolatos lamented.

“The latter settle down where there are jobs, not where there is a church.

“Hence the need to build places of worship near their homes, but this involves expenses that we cannot afford.

“The tax burden exceeds 50%, greatly diminishing our capacity to help and our pastoral activities”.

“The EU, which speaks of solidarity, has closed its doors, so there is little we can do”

Also stretching the Greek Catholic Church’s budget is the money needed to attend to the tens of thousands of migrants and refugees who have arrived in Greece after fleeing the wars in Iraq and Syria.

The Church, also with Caritas and other Catholic and humanitarian agencies, is on the front line of relief efforts, but Rossolatos said “it’s a difficult task… aimed also at integration, finding a job, a home”.

“Unfortunately the EU, which speaks of solidarity, has closed its doors and so there is little we can do as compared to real needs”, the archbishop decried.

A plea to the ‘Mediterranean Synod’: “Our Church needs help”

To face all these challenges, Rossolatos and his fellow Greek Catholics are praying they can find encouragement in the “Mediterranean, frontier of peace” event, organised by the Italian Bishops’ Conference and with the presence of Pope Francis and bishops for the countries bordering the Mediterranean that will take place in Bari from February 19-23.

The Mediterranean “no longer responds to its vocation as a space for encounter and interaction”, the archbishop lamented.

“Its shores are plagued by wars, tensions and crises that have been raging for years”.

“I hope that unitary prospects of commitment will emerge from Bari with a view to social development, removing injustices and inequalities and transforming the Mare Nostrum into a frontier of peace”, the archbishop concluded, speaking of his hopes for the ‘Mediterranean Synod’ and expressing:

“Our Church needs help. Ours is a mission Church that prays to reawaken values of closeness and solidarity in others. Only in this way can the Mediterranean be a frontier of peace”.

Next on Novena:

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Italian bishop: Bari ‘Mediterranean Synod’ to transform “sea of death” into “welcoming haven”

Spanish-Moroccan cardinal calls for Synod on migration: “The Mediterranean cannot continue to be a frontier of death”

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Progressive Catholic journalist, author and educator. Working on social justice, equality and Church renewal.