ATHENS, GREECE – Pope Francis warned on Saturday that the “easy answers” of populism and authoritarianism threatened democracy in Europe and called for a new dedication to promoting the common good.
Francis used a speech to political and cultural leaders in Greece, the cradle of democracy, to address Europe as a whole, arguing that only strong multilateralism can successfully solve the pressing problems of the day, of protection from the environment to pandemic and poverty.
“Politics need it, in order to put common needs ahead of private interests,” François said after arriving in Athens on Saturday. “Yet we cannot help but note with concern how today, and not just in Europe, we are witnessing a decline in democracy.”
Francis, who lived through Argentina’s populist Peronist era as well as its military dictatorship, has often warned of the threat of authoritarianism and populism and the danger it poses to the European Union and to democracy itself. same.
He did not name any particular country or leader during his speech. The EU, however, is locked in a row with its members, Poland and Hungary, over rule of law issues, with Warsaw insisting that Polish law takes precedence over EU policies and regulations. .
Outside the bloc, populist leaders in Brazil and the administration of former US President Donald Trump lobbied nationalist environmental policies that contrasted sharply with Francis’ call to take care of “our common home. “.
Opening the second leg of his five-day trip to Cyprus and Greece, François recalled that it was in Greece, according to Aristotle, that man became aware of being a political animal and a member of a community of fellow citizens. .
“Here, democracy was born,” François told Greek President Katerina Sakellaropoulou. “This cradle, thousands of years later, was to become a house, a great house for democratic peoples. I am talking about the European Union and the dream of peace and fraternity that it represents for so many peoples.”
This dream is threatened amid the economic upheavals and other disruptions of the pandemic that can engender nationalistic sentiments and make authoritarianism appear “compelling and populism’s easy responses seem appealing,” Francis said.
“The cure is not in an obsessive quest for popularity, in a thirst for visibility, in a flurry of unrealistic promises … but in good policy,” he said.
Francis’ visit to Cyprus and Greece also focused on the plight of migrants as Europe tightens its border control policies. He is due to travel to the island of Lesbos in the Aegean Sea on Sunday, where he went five years ago to meet migrants in a detention camp.
In Athens, Francis also meets the Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis and the head of the Greek Orthodox Church, Archbishop Ieronymos.
In 2001, Pope John Paul II became the first Catholic leader to visit Greece in over 1,200 years, and Francis’ visit 20 years later is expected to strengthen Catholic-Orthodox ties, still wounded by the great schism that divided Christianity.
Francis has accelerated interfaith initiatives as the two churches attempt to move from centuries of competition and mistrust to collaboration.
Francis invited Orthodox Christians and other religious leaders to the Vatican in October to sign a climate declaration. Advocates of greater cooperation between the Vatican and the Orthodox argue it could help besieged Christian communities in the Middle East and North Africa.
Orthodox churches are also seeking alliances amid growing conflict over the independence of the Ukrainian church, which was historically ruled by the Russian Orthodox Church.
“I think the presence of the Pope in Greece and Cyprus signals a return to the normal relationship we should have (…) an associate professor of theology and church history at the University of Athens, told The Associated Press.
“So this trip is very important, and it means that we can have a real discussion on the main issues, like migration,” said Panagiotopoulos.
Up to 4,000 police officers were ready to take up their duties in Athens for the Pope’s visit, and authorities have banned protests and large public gatherings in parts of central Athens over the weekend.
The Pope’s visit ends Monday.