Pope Francis was heckled by an elderly Greek Orthodox priest on Saturday as he arrived for a meeting with the head of the country’s Orthodox Church, evidence of the lingering distrust between some Orthodox and Catholics 1,200 years after Christianity was cleaved in half.
“Pope, you are a heretic!” the priest shouted three times as Francis arrived at the residence of Archbishop Ieronymos in the Greek capital of Athens. The protester fell to the ground as police led him away, and Francis appeared not to notice as he walked into the residence for his private meeting with the Orthodox leader.
The incident followed small protests against the pope on his previous stop, the island of Cyprus, which is also predominantly Christian Orthodox.
During Francis’ trip, the leaders of two churches renewed a promise to overcome centuries of mistrust and competition for influence. In contrast to the lone heckling priest, Ieronymos welcomed Francis “with a feeling of honor and fraternity.”
Francis’ state visit to Greece comes 20 years after St. John Paul II made the first such visit since the Great Schism, and used the occasion to apologize for the sins “by action or omission” committed by Catholics against Orthodox over the centuries.
Francis renewed that apology Saturday in front of Ieronymos and other Orthodox prelates, saying he was ashamed for the actions of Catholics who, because of a “thirst for advantage and power, gravely weakened our communion.”
Catholics and Orthodox split over a host of issues, including the primacy of the pope.
Ieronymos, for his part, told Francis on Saturday that he shared the pope’s vision to forge strong ties to face global challenges like the migration crisis and climate change.