VATICAN CITY, MAY 3, 2001 (VIS) - Holy See Press Office Director, Joaquin Navarro-Valls, granted the following interview to correspondents of two Greek television stations: Vassiliki Markaki for the private station Star Channel, and Dimitri Deliolanes for Et, the Greek national television. The interview was aired yesterday afternoon.

Q. What is the Pontiff's frame of mind on the vigil of this trip to Greece?

A. He is very happy to undertake his first trip to Greece. It is important to put this trip in focus. It is very well known that for years the pope has wished to undertake a personal pilgrimage to a series of significant places of Christian tradition and that itinerary naturally included St. Paul's itinerary, and therefore, the areopago, the place where St. Paul, leaving the cultural and religious tradition of Judaism, headed for the then West. Naturally there is also the place of his conversion, Damascus, and then Malta, another stage on his trip to Rome. I would say that it is in this context that the Pope's presence in Athens is very meaningful. This was the request that he had made and I must say right away that the Pope is grateful to the Hellenic civil authorities and, in a special way, to His Beatitude Cristodoulos, who made his trip possible.

Q: You say this is his "first trip," but the pope has already visited Greece as archbishop of Krakow. Has he ever spoken to you of that experience?

A. Let's be clear that, in the biography of an intellectual like Karol Wojtyla, the Greek itinerary is inevitable, because of what classical Greek thought brought to what today is called Europe, and even to the world. Therefore he has been there. He knows very well, very much in depth, not only Greek philosophy but also literature, Homeric poetry and the classical Greek theatre, as he also knows and loves the countryside, the islands, the sea, the sun, which are all in some way present in the very structure of classical thought.

Q. A Slav Pope who is the artisan of the great openings towards the Orthodox world: Is there some link between his love for Greek culture and openings towards Orthodoxy?

A. Without a doubt. The expression that he often uses - 'This Europe of two lungs' - is not simply a rhetorical metaphor but an ecclesiastical and religious reality. For the Pope, the historical reality of Christianity cannot be understood or accepted as solely a Latin one. The reality of Christianity is one which has two dimensions, which was developed in two directions, Eastern and Latin - and this Slav Pope, whose roots are in the East, it is he who has taken great steps towards Orthodoxy.

Q. The Catholic Archbishop of Athens, Nikolaos Foscolos, has spoken of the calvary of the Greek Catholics and has defined the Pope's trip as an impossible mission. Is it really this way?

A. I would say that not only is it a possible mission but that the nuances of tension that we have observed in recent weeks in some way underline the need for this trip. Regarding the declarations to the press by the Catholic archbishop of Athens, which I also read, I believe that he would like the Catholic minority to be more recognized, less discriminated against. What I would like to underscore is that the Pope is going to Greece inspired principally by what unites us. Without forgetting the complexity of the problems but rather focussing on what unites the Greek Orthodox Church and the Latin one. I say this because, as you know, the separation between East and West is 10 centuries long. Ten centuries of very few contacts, of so many misunderstandings. And now is the moment to take advantage of and focus on what unites us. Afterwards there will be time to discuss problems.

Q. The Holy Father's visit occurs in a difficult moment for ecumenical dialogue. Does the possibility of a personal talk with the primate of the Greek Church mean that there could be some understanding already on this trip?

A. Three encounters are scheduled for the program; The Pope's visit to His Beatitude Cristodoulos, the visit to the nunciature and then the most meaningful - their meeting at the areopago to read together the Acts of the Apostles. This first encounter already has an historical value, which it seems that the international public opinion has already emphasized, and not only in the Christian world. I don't know if there will be time and occasions to reach big accords, but sometimes gestures have a meaning whereby they can place themselves above the many misunderstandings. Ecumenical dialogue began in a new way 21 years ago. Together many roads have been travelled, though much remains to be done, but in this travelling together, which the two Churches surely desire, the meeting in Athens has a great historical value."

Q. Could one hazard a guess that this trip to Athens will open the doors for the Pope's much-wished for trip to Moscow?

A. I believe that these two trips are absolutely unconnected. For now the Pope wants to go to Greece for his personal pilgrimage and his heart is focused upon this country. To go to Greece thinking of Russia would be like saying 'Greece doesn't interest me, the Greeks do not matter', and this is completely absent from the Pope's thought. The Pope is going to this great country of Greece with its great Christian Church, and he goes to pay a fitting homage to the shared history in a certain way personified in the journey of St. Paul. The Pope at this time is thinking about Greece.

Q. How will the Pope be received in Greece, do you expect protests? 

A. Sincerely, I do not expect them. Also because the protests that were seen in recent days, if placed within the demographic context of Greece, have no significance. But above all because it seems to me that, culturally, they are not a part of the majority thinking of the country. Naturally we respect every civil protest of dissent.

Q. Is the Pope displeased at not being able to meet the faithful in the Olympic Stadium of Athens?

A. The Pope knows about this. But his desire to go to Athens is so strong that these little things do not matter so much. On the contrary, we are grateful for the possibility to celebrate Mass in the
place which we have been given, even if the faithful will be a bit more crowded. We hope it is not too hot!