Pope Francis on Saturday warned about a “retreating of democracy” in Europe and the world in his first speech in Athens as he started his three-day visit to Greece.
“Democracy was born here. Today, there is a retreating of democracy, not only in the Old Continent. Everyone’s participation is fundamental not only to achieving goals but because it reveals who we are,” the Pontiff told Greek and Vatican officials, as well as Catholic bishops who attended the welcoming ceremony at the Presidential Mansion.
“Without Athens and without Greece, Europe and the world would not be what they are today,” he added, while warning against the “easy answers of populism.”
He then talked about migration, noting that Greece’s diffulties have exacerbated following the economic crisis. “Yet Europe continues to hesitate, and the EU has often fallen prey to forms of nationalistic self-interest, rather than being an engine of solidarity, and has appeared at times blocked and uncoordinated. The issue of migration has led to breaches between South and North,” he said and called for a “global, communitarian vision” regarding migration.
He also expressed hope that commitments assumed in the fight against climate change will be more fully shared and seriously implemented.
In his address, the Pope also welcomed the Prespes Accord signed between Greece and North Macedonia in 2018, which ended a decades-long dispute over the latter’s name.
President Katerina Sakellaropoulou welcomed Pope Francis in Athens, extolling his work and his “deep social sensitivity.” She also thanked him for expressing his support on the change of status of Hagia Sophia from a museum into a mosque by the Turkish government.
His arrival in Athens marks the second leg of the Pontiff’s visit to the Mediterranean that aims to draw attention to the plight of migrants and refugees.
His schedule includes a large Mass on Sunday evening at the Athens Concert Hall.