Thousands of students from Thessaloniki’s Aristotle University have condemned the impending visit of Pope Francis to Lesvos, branding him a “heretic”.
The students, who are a part of the University’s Theological Department, released a statement this week in which they encouraged their fellow students to rally behind them in support of having the Catholic leader’s visit to the island cancelled.
My Orthodox brothers and I wish to express the closeness and solidarity to both the refugees and the citizens of Lesvos and the entire Greek people, who have been so generous in their welcome -Pope Francis
According to Dimosiografiko Sigkrotima Makedonia, Greek Orthodox bishops Ambrosios, Serafim and Glyfadas had stirred the students into action, spreading the message that the pope’s visit would signify the end of the world as we know it.
Since the statement’s release, staff at the university have disassociated themselves from the protest and clarified that they do not condone their behaviour in any way.
According to a report by Greek publication Kathimerini, the pope’s visit is set to go ahead without disruptions.
“It’s an extraordinary occasion,” said Cardinal Peter Turkson, head of the Vatican’s justice and peace office. “It’s a historic event because something like this has never happened before.”
The Vatican said Pope Francis had accepted an invitation from Bartholomew and the Greek president, clarifying it will not be an official state visit but rather a humanitarian one.
“The reality was that this was the patriarch’s idea,” said George Demacopoulos, chair of Orthodox Christian studies at the Jesuit-run Fordham University in New York.
“The Holy Synod of the Church of Greece proposed he visit Lesvos and invited Bartholomew to come along. The pro-forma is that he had to go through the archbishop of Athens and the state of Greece to make it happen.”
Scheduled to arrive in Lesvos today, Saturday 16 April at 10.15 am, he will pay a visit to refugee camp Morias, where he will meet with local officials and residents, as well as refugees.
The pope will then be accompanied by head of the Church of Greece Archbishop Ieronymos; spiritual leader of Orthodox Christians, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholemew and Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, with all four expected to sign a joint declaration on the refugee crisis.
The pope will depart the island at 3.00 pm.