A senior Catholic priest in Greece has warned of growing hostility to his church in the run-up to a visit by Pope John Paul next month.

Father Dominikos Psaltis, administrator of the Catholic cathedral in Athens, added that most Catholic clergy in Greece believed the papal pilgrimage should be postponed because of disputes between the Athens government and the nation's biggest church, the (Orthodox) Church of Greece.

"Some Orthodox Christians want to see the Pope here, but they are clearly in the minority—even Greeks with no interest in ecclesiastical affairs are against this visit," Psaltis, 68, said in a telephone interview from Athens.

"Though formally accepting the visit, Orthodox priests and bishops are firmly opposed to it in practice. By present indications, we can only expect negative results."

Preparations for Pope John Paul's pilgrimage on May 4 and 5, his first to Greece, are already under way. Psaltis said that pressure on the country's 200,000-member Catholic minority had increased because of the forthcoming visit. Police were regularly removing graffiti from Catholic places of worship, he said.

"It defies the imagination what is being said against the Pope here in daily television broadcasts—as well as against the Catholic Church generally, and the theories of papal primacy and infallibility," Father Psaltis said. "I wonder if previous popes such as John XXIII or Paul VI would have come, knowing what was being stated about them. In these circumstances, it would be much better for the Pope to postpone his visit."

Plans for the brief pilgrimage by Pope John Paul, who hopes to visit the place in Athens where St Paul preached, have been under way since January, when Greece's President Costis Stefanopoulos told the 80-year-old ...

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