ATHENS, ( - In the midst of protests by extremist elements in the Greek Orthodox Church against the visit by Pope John Paul II to the country this week, the newest complaint is that the Pope should not kiss Greek soil as is his custom.

Catholic officials in Greece said the Holy Father would be offered an olive branch and flowers instead of the traditional bowl of soil he would kiss, but Vatican officials insisted the Pontiff would
continue his 22-year-old tradition. "As is scheduled and as he has done on all his trips, the Holy Father will kiss Greek soil as a gesture of respect," papal spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls said.

Since starting his travels in 1979, the Pope has kissed the ground when arriving in a country for the first time. As he has aged and bending down has become more difficult, the Holy Father has been
offered a vessel holding soil to kiss.

Some Greek Orthodox extremists have insisted that soil of Greece is sacred and the Pope's kissing it would be an act of provocation and not respect. A Greek Catholic priest, Father Nikiforos Vidalis, said the switch was needed to avoid "misunderstandings."