The Athens Catholic archbishop has accused the EU of not helping Greece enough on the issue of migrants and refugees.
Driving the news
“The Union has helped us, even in the face of some political crises, but on the issue of migrants it has shown great inconsistency”, Archbishop Sevastianos Rossolatos lamented to Mondo e Missione in an interview February 1.
“It talks about solidarity, but the refugees keep coming and we have to manage them alone.
“The European Churches themselves should raise their voices more clearly: say that the inflows of humans are the result of conflicts caused or sustained by the West, the arms trade of the great powers, the exploitation of the resources of their countries or Western support for governments who oppress their citizens.
“To talk about peace, you need to tell the truth and share your commitments”, Rossolatos insisted.
That “truth” and “commitment” around the migrant and refugee question is exactly what Rossolatos said he expects of the upcoming ‘Mediterranean: frontier of peace’ event organised by the Italian Bishops to be held in Bari, with the presence of Pope Francis, from February 19-23.
Not that Rossolatos is complaining too much about the influx of foreigners into Greece, since they’ve helped to swell the numbers of Greek Catholics fourfold in the last thirty years.
“Today, thanks to migration, despite the impact of the economic crisis that has decimated us again, we are around 200,000 faithful” with around 50,000 native-born Greek Catholics, the Athens archbishop celebrated.
Why it matters
The influx of Poles, Albanians, Romanians, Ukrainians – and later Lebanese, Syrians and Iraqis, as well as Africans and Asians – has presented some challenges for the Greek Catholic Church.
First of all, the fact that the Catholic migrants are spread all over the country in what Rossolatos calls a “diaspora”, and the Church just doesn’t the “strength and material means”, in terms of priests and funds, to care for all the faithful as it would like.
Next there is the challenge of creating “unity” in such a multicultural community, Rossolatos, also president of the Greek Bishops’ Conference, acknowledged.
“The goal is to create a truly Catholic Church, without national barriers. But it is not simple, also because pastoral needs [of the ethnic communities] are very diverse”, the prelate admitted.
“We struggle because of the lack of strength. Since the seventies we have experienced a collapse of vocations and today I find myself with few priests, many of whom are over 75. Half of them are foreign”, Rossolatos lamented, however optimistic he is for the nine new seminarians and one new priest he has.
“Relationships are tense”, too, with the native Orthodox Church, Rossolatos admitted, for whom “we are simply heretics and therefore our sacraments are not valid”.
There’s also the problem of the ongoing economic and financial situation, which according to the Athens archbishop “remains very serious, with hundreds of thousands of unemployed, young people who emigrate “to the West”, as they say here, in huge numbers”.
For the record
But all those challenges don’t mean Greek Catholics are giving up.
Instead, they’re concentrating on forming a new generation of faithful more rooted and at home in the country – fluent in the culture and language in the Catholic schools that have gained an enviable reputation in Greece – and trying to serve the human needs of citizens as best they’re able.
“Today we guarantee a meal to five hundred people every day, even if we risk closing due to lack of funds”, Rossolatos said of the Athens headquarters of Church charity Caritas.
“Since 2015, in the face of the refugee emergency, we have become the leaders of a series of projects also financed by foreign Caritas, the UN and the German government to help thousands of desperate people welcomed in camps across the country”, the archbishop explained.
“There are also many Christians and Catholics, discriminated against by other refugees for their faith.
“Alongside material aid, we take care of the inclusion of children in Greek schools and the teaching of Greek and English to adults. We try to help them get papers, find a job, also because it will be difficult that Europe ropens its doors”.