ATHENS – Pope Francis was heckled by an elderly Greek Orthodox priest on Saturday as he arrived for a meeting with the head of the country’s Orthodox Church, evidence of the lingering distrust between some Orthodox and Catholics 1,200 years after Christianity was cleaved in half.
“Pope, you are a heretic!” the priest shouted three times as Francis arrived at the residence of Archbishop Ieronymos in the Greek capital of Athens. The protester fell to the ground as police led him away, and Francis appeared not to notice as he walked into the residence for his private meeting with the Orthodox leader.
The incident followed small protests against the pope on his previous stop, the island of Cyprus, which is also predominantly Christian Orthodox.
But inside Ieronymos' residence, the two Christian leaders could not have been more friendly with one another and in synch in their shared call for Christians to work together to protect the environment and care for migrants. In contrast to the lone heckling priest, Ieronymos welcomed Francis “with a feeling of honor and fraternity."
Francis’ state visit to Greece comes 20 years after St. John Paul II made the first such visit to Greece since the Great Schism, and used the occasion to apologize for the sins “by action or omission” committed by Catholics against Orthodox over the centuries. Francis renewed that apology Saturday in front of Ieronymos and other Orthodox prelates.
Ieronymos told Francis on Saturday that he shared the pope's vision to forge strong ties to face global challenges like the migration crisis and climate change.
“If the world community, the leaders of powerful states, and international organizations do not take bold decisions, the ever-threatening presence of vulnerable refugee women and children will continue to grow globally," Ieronymos warned. “Together we must shake the rocks and the walls against the intransigence of the powerful of the Earth."