WELCOME CEREMONY AT THE PRESIDENTIAL PALACE OF ATHENS
ADDRESS OF THE HOLY FATHER
Friday, 4 May 2001
1. I thank you for your kind words of welcome. I am deeply grateful for this opportunity to greet
you, and through you to offer a cordial greeting to the members of the Government and of the
Diplomatic Missions. I have happy memories, Mr President, of your visit to the Vatican last January,
and I thank you for your invitation to come to Greece. Through you I likewise extend heartfelt
greetings to all the people of your country. My wish is in some way to recognize the great debt
which we all owe to Greece; in fact no one can be unaware of the enduring influence that her unique
history and culture have had on European civilization and indeed on that of the entire world.
Last year, Christians everywhere celebrated the two thousandth anniversary of the birth of Jesus
Christ. I had a deep desire to mark that event by becoming a pilgrim to some of the places
connected with the history of salvation. This desire became a reality in my pilgrimage to Sinai and to
the Holy Land. Now it is to Greece that I come as a pilgrim, in the footsteps of Saint Paul, whose
mighty figure towers over the two millennia of Christian history and whose memory is etched for
ever in the soil of Greece. It was here in Athens that Paul founded one of the first communities of his
voyages in the West and of his mission on the European continent. Here he worked tirelessly to
make Christ known; here he suffered for the proclamation of the Gospel. And how could we not
recall that it was here in the city of Athens that there began the dialogue between the Christian
message and Hellenistic culture, a dialogue which would decisively shape European civilization?
2. Long before the Christian era, the influence of Greece was felt far and wide. In Biblical literature,
the later books of the Old Testament, some of which were written in the Greek language, were
profoundly marked by Hellenistic culture. The Greek translation of the Old Testament, known as the
Septuagint, had a great influence in Antiquity. The world that Jesus himself entered and knew was
already deeply imbued with Greek culture. The New Testament was written in Greek, with the
result that it spread rapidly. But it was much more than a simple matter of language, for the early
Christians also drew upon Greek culture in order to transmit the Gospel message.
Certainly the first encounters of Christianity and high Greek culture were difficult. One indication of
this is the reception accorded to Paul when he preached at the Areopagus (cf. Acts 17:16-34).
While corresponding to the profound expectation of the Athenian people in search of the true God,
Paul did not find it easy to preach Christ who had died and was risen, and to show that in Christ is
to be found the full meaning of life and the goal of all religious experience. It would fall to the first
Apologists, like the martyr Saint Justin, to show that a fruitful encounter between reason and faith
3. Once the initial distrust was overcome, Christian writers began to see in Greek culture an ally
rather than an enemy, and there emerged great centers of Christian Hellenism throughout the
Reading the learned writings of Augustine of Hippo and Dionysius the Areopagite, we see that
Christian theology and mysticism drew elements from the dialogue with Platonic philosophy. Writers
like Gregory of Nazianzus, steeped in Greek rhetoric, were able to create a Christian literature
worthy of its classical antecedents. Gradually, then, the Hellenistic world became Christian, and
Christianity became to a certain extent Greek. Then there came to birth the Byzantine culture of the
East and the Medieval culture of the West, both deeply imbued with Christian faith and Greek
culture. And how could we not mention the approach of Saint Thomas who, in rereading the works
of Aristotle, proposed a masterly theological and philosophical synthesis?
Raphael’s painting "The School of Athens" in the Vatican Palace makes clear the contribution of the
school of Athens to the art and culture of the Renaissance, a period which led to a great exchange
between classical Athens and the culture of Christian Rome.
4. Hellenistic culture is characterized by its attention to the education of the young. Plato insisted on
the need to train the mind of the young to seek the good and the honorable, as well as to respect
the principles of divine law. How many Greek philosophers and writers, beginning with Socrates,
Aeschylus and Sophocles, invited their contemporaries to live "in accordance with the virtues"!
Saints Basil and John Chrysostom did not neglect to praise the value of the Greek educational
tradition, for its concern to develop the moral sense of young people and to help them to choose
freely what is good.
The fundamental elements of this long tradition remain valid for the people, including the young
people, of our own time. Among the most sure elements are the moral aspects contained in the
Hippocratic Oath, which emphasizes the principle of unconditional respect for human life in the
Greece is also the country in which two great sporting traditions, the Olympic Games and the
Marathon, were born. Through these competitions a significant conception of the human person is
expressed, in the harmony of the spiritual and bodily dimensions, through disciplined effort, marked
by moral and civic values. We can only rejoice that to see that these competitions perdure and
continue to create close bonds among the peoples of the world.
5. The inculturation of the Gospel in the Greek world remains an example for all inculturation. In its
relations with Greek culture, the proclamation of the Gospel had to make a careful discernment, in
order to receive and evaluate all its positive elements, and at the same time to reject aspects which
are incompatible with the Christian message. In this we have a permanent challenge for the
proclamation of the Gospel, in its encounter with the various cultures and with the process of
globalization. All of this calls us to engage in respectful and honest dialogue, and requires a new
solidarity which evangelical love is capable of inspiring, bringing to fulfillment
the Greek ideal of the cosmopolis in a world which is truly united and imbued with justice and fraternity.
We are in a decisive period of European history, and I hope most fervently that the Europe now
emerging will rediscover this long tradition of encounter between Greek culture and Christianity in
fresh and imaginative ways, not as the vestige of a vanished world but as the true basis for the
genuinely human progress that our world seeks.
Carved on the façade of the Temple in Delphi were the words "Know yourself"; I appeal therefore
to Europe to know herself ever more deeply. Such self-knowledge will come only in so far as
Europe explores afresh the roots of her identity, roots which reach deep into the classical Hellenistic
patrimony and into the Christian heritage which brought to birth a humanism based upon the vision
of every human person as created in the image and likeness of God.
6. Geography and history have set your country, Mr President, between East and West, and this
means that Greece’s natural vocation is to build bridges and a culture of dialogue. Today this is
essential for Europe’s future. Many walls have been broken down in recent times, but others remain.
The task of integrating the Eastern and Western parts of Europe remains complex; and there is still
much to be done to bring harmony between the Christians of East and West, so that the Church can
breathe with both her lungs. All believers should see themselves as having a duty to work for this
objective. The Catholic Church in Greece desires to share loyally in this noble cause, which also has
positive effects in the social sphere. From this point of view, a significant contribution is made by the
schools in which the younger generation is trained. Schools are par excellence places where the
integration of young people of different backgrounds takes place. The Catholic Church, in harmony
with the other Churches and religious confessions, desires to cooperate with all citizens for the
education of the young. She wishes to continue her long educational experience in your country,
especially through the activities of the Marist Brothers and the Brothers of the Christian Schools, the
Ursuline Sisters and the Sisters of Saint Joseph. These different religious families have shown that,
with tact and respect for the cultural traditions of the young people entrusted to them, they are able
to educate men and women to be true Greeks among the Greeks.
At the end of our meeting, I once more thank you most warmly, Mr President, for your welcome,
and at the same time I express my gratitude to all who have made possible my pilgrimage in the
footsteps of Saint Paul. I ask God to bestow upon the people of your country his abundant
blessings, so that in the third millennium Greece may continue to offer new and wonderful gifts to the
continent of Europe and to the family of nations!