VATICAN CITY, MAY 4, 2001 (VIS) - At midday today, the Pope travelled from the presidential palace to the residence of the Orthodox Archbishop of Athens, for a courtesy visit to His Beatitude Christodoulos, archbishop of Athens and of all Greece.
After a speech by the Orthodox metropolitan, John Paul II, speaking English, addressed the archbishop, the members of the Holy Synod and the bishops of the Orthodox Church in Greece. 
The Pope made reference to the past and present controversies and misunderstandings which "can and must be overcome, for that is what the Lord asks of us. Clearly there is a need for a liberating process of purification of memory. For the occasions past and present, when sons and daughters of the Catholic Church have sinned by action or omission against their Orthodox brothers and sisters, may the Lord grant us the forgiveness we beg of Him." 
After recalling "the disastrous sack of the imperial city Constantinople, which was for so long the bastion of Christianity in the East," John Paul II said: "It is tragic that the assailants, who had set out to secure free access for Christians to the Holy Land, turned against their own brothers in the faith.
The fact that they were Latin Christians fills Catholics with deep regret. ... To God alone belongs judgement, and therefore we entrust the heavy burden of the past to His endless mercy, imploring Him to heal the wounds which still cause suffering to the spirit of the Greek people."
"At this meeting," the Pope continued, "I also wish to assure Your Beatitude that the Church of Rome looks with unaffected admiration to the Orthodox Church of Greece for the way in which she has preserved her heritage of faith and Christian life. The name of Greece resounds wherever the Gospel is preached. ... The universal Church can never forget what Greek Christianity has given her, cannot cease to give thanks for the enduring influence of the Greek tradition."
The Holy Father recalled that "in 1965 the Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras and Pope Paul VI, by a mutual act, removed and cancelled from the Church's memory and life the sentence of excommunication between Rome and Constantinople. This historic gesture stands as a summons for us to work ever more fervently for the unity which is Christ's will. Division between Christians is a sin before God and a scandal before the world. It is a hindrance to the spread of the Gospel, because it makes our proclamation less credible."
At the conclusion of the meeting, the Pope and His Beatitude Christodoulos signed a joint declaration on the Christian roots of Europe, which will be read in the afternoon, during the Holy Father's visit to the Areopagus.
John Paul II then went to the Apostolic Nunciature of Athens to lunch with the Catholic bishops of Greece and the cardinals and bishops in the Pope's entourage.