Present day Greece: a land of contrasts

In May 2009, one of the brothers made a series of visits in Greece. On his return to Taizé, he wrote:

In a rural area in the North of the country, the parish priests attend continuing education classes. They are between thirty and sixty years old. Since it is already hot at 3 o’clock on a May afternoon, the liturgy class – led by a professor from Thessalonica who is much younger than most of his students - has been moved out from the classroom to the arbour in front of the school, with a view over snow capped Mount Olympus. The visit of a Christian from the West is an opportunity for yet another transfer: we are going to talk about Taizé, of its life of prayer and meetings. A dialogue begins, and in spite of great differences between the reality of the parishes of these priests and life at Taizé, similar questions exist: how can the Church listen to young people, how can it welcome them?

In Athens, very close to one of the squares in the centre of the city. After spending the morning in his office at Archbishop’s House, the young vicar general and another Orthodox priest arrive for the distribution of meals to the poor of the neighbourhood, who for the most part are illegal immigrants. In the streets, you would think that the whole world had come together here. There are Africans, people from the Near and the Far East, and from other Asian countries as well. In a little square, separated from the street by a railing, volunteers set up the equipment for the distribution. The gate is opened and over a thousand people press forward to receive a ration of food and a bottle of water. The vicar general watches over everything, speaking with this one or that. He is assisted by Orthodox priests and volunteers, and also by the Anglican priest of Athens, four Pentecostal pastors from Africa who know the situation in the neighbourhood very well and who are very efficient.

In a residential neighbourhood in Athens, there is a beautiful little church in the middle of a park. They say that people like to come here for weddings. Thirty young adults come together on a Tuesday with their priest, who is also in charge of youth ministry for the Orthodox archdiocese. There is no parish hall; the meeting takes place in the nave of the church: all that is needed is to move a few benches to form a circle. One of the young people tells of his experience in France: he saw large churches that were fairly empty. And when the people attending Mass were more numerous, it was in Polish or in Portuguese. He wondered what would happen in Greece in the coming years. The discussion went on for some time. Perhaps the high point was when we remarked that what was lacking was the feeling that we missed the others. The priest explained the icon of Pentecost: the apostles and Mary do not form a circle that is closed; it is open towards the world.

Last updated: 27 May 2009