Pope encourages Greek Catholics to follow Saint Paul’s example
On his first day in Greece, Pope Francis meets the small Catholic community of Athens. In his speech, he encourages the Catholics of Greece to follow the example of Saint Paul, who converted Saint Dionysius in the Areopagus, sowing the mustard seed of the Christian faith in Greece.
By Lisa Zengarini
After his meeting with the Greek Orthodox Primate Hieronymos II and the Holy Synod, Pope Francis met the Greek Catholic community at Saint Dionysius Cathedral in Athens on Saturday afternoon.
The Archbishop Emeritus of Athens, Sevastianos Rossolatos, greeted the Pope to open the meeting. His words were followed by two testimonies: that of an Argentinian nun working on the island of Tinos, and that of a lay Catholic. They spoke of the joys and challenges of being a small faith community in a predominantly Orthodox country, amid increasing secularization and immigration, which is changing the makeup of the local Church.
In the footsteps of St Paul
Addressing the bishops, priests, religious, seminarians and catechists present, Pope Francis encouraged the small Catholic community in Greece to follow the example of Saint Paul, who converted Saint Dionysus, the first bishop and patron saint of Athens , in the Areopagus.
Pope Francis noted that proclaiming the gospel in Greek society at the time was not easy, but the apostle managed to sow the little mustard seed of faith synthesizing Christianity and Greek culture.
The Pope drew attention in particular to two attitudes which helped the Apostle to make a breakthrough in pagan Greece and which may be of use today in inculturating the faith in the country.
Trusting in God
The first attitude, he said, was confident confidence. As the Acts of the Apostles recount, upon his arrival in Athens, Paul was brought to the Areopagus as an unwanted guest to be tested. “Perhaps, on several occasions along the way, we also feel weary and even frustrated at being a small community, a Church with few resources operating in a climate that is not always favorable,” noted Pope Francis.
However, in this hostile environment, Paul did not give up his mission, nor gave in to the temptation to complain. “This is the attitude of a true apostle: to move forward with confidence, preferring the uncertainty of unexpected situations rather than the complacency that comes from force of habit”, remarked Pope Francis, recalling that Paul’s courage came from trusting God.
The same attitude prevails today in the small Catholic community of Greece: “As a Church, we are not called to have the spirit of conquest and victory, impressive numbers or worldly greatness. We are asked to take inspiration from the mustard seed, which seems insignificant, but grows slowly and quietly, ”Pope Francis said. “We are asked to be the leaven that rises patiently and silently, hidden in the dough of the world, thanks to the constant work of the Holy Spirit”.
Smallness is a blessing
So, Pope Francis continued, “consider your smallness a blessing and accept it willingly. It disposes you to trust God and God alone. To be a minority – and remember that the Church in the world is a minority – does not mean to be insignificant, but closer to the path beloved of the Lord, which is that of littleness: of kenosis, of abasement, softness ”.
The attitude of acceptance
Pope Francis then underlined the second attitude manifested by Paul in the Areopagus: that of welcoming, which “does not seek to occupy the space and the lives of others, but to sow the good news in the soil of their own. life ; he learns to recognize and appreciate the seeds that God already planted in their hearts before we entered the scene ”.
Suggest not impose
Paul, he noted, adopted a remarkable pedagogy with the Athenians: “He did not impose; He proposed. His “style” was not based on proselytizing, but on the meekness of Jesus ”.
This is the right attitude to adopt today, knowing that “the Holy Spirit always does more than what we can see from the outside”, underlined the Pope, referring to the words of the Catholic lay person named Rokos, who in her testimony spoke of her discomfort at seeing her children straying from religious practice.
Creating fellowship amid differences
Continuing his reflection, Pope Francis went further, stressing the need in Greece to be “a heart willing to create communion in the midst of human, cultural and religious differences”. He recalled the words of Pope Benedict XVI in his address to the Roman Curia on December 21, 2009, in which the German Pontiff noted that “we must have at heart those who are agnostics or atheists, but be careful that when we let us speak of a new evangelization, that they are not put off ”.
Cultivate the “mystique” of fraternity
The challenge today, Pope Francis noted, is “to develop a passion for the whole, which can lead us – Catholics, Orthodox, brothers and sisters of other faiths – to listen to one another, to to dream and to work together, to cultivate the ‘mystique’ of fraternity. The wounds of the past remain along the way to such a welcoming dialogue, but let us courageously take up the challenge of today! ” he added.
To be a laboratory of faith
Concluding his speech, Pope Francis noted that although most of the people of the Areopagus laughed at Saint Paul and left, some, including Dionysius, joined him and became believers. It was a little remnant, he said, “yet this is how God weaves the threads of history, from those days to our own.” It is my fervent desire that you continue the work in your historical “laboratory” of faith, ”concluded Pope Francis.