Pope Arrives in Greece on Tour
Pope John Paul arrived in Athens on Friday at the start of a six-day trip to Greece, Syria and Malta.
Footage of his reception was shown by the Al Jazeera satellite channel.
Officials at Rome airport told Reuters that the special Airbus 321 carrying the pope, his entourage and journalists left Rome's Leonardo Da Vinci airport at 8:50 a.m. (0650 GMT) on a two-hour flight for Athens, the first leg of the tour.
The Alitalia plane was called Piazza dei Miracoli -- the Square of Miracles.
The trip is the 81-year-old pope's first outside Italy this year and the 93rd foreign trip of his pontificate. He returns to Rome on May 9, said the agency.
The pope’s visit to Syria was hoped to help cool down a heated dispute between Christian Lebanese and Syria over the presence of the latter’s troops in the neighboring country.
But Lebanon's Maronite Patriarch Nasrallah Sfeir announced on Wednesday that he would not accompany Pope John Paul II on the latter's historic trip to Syria, citing the "political character" the visit had assumed.
The decision came in a statement issued following the Council of Maronite Bishops' monthly meeting to consider church matters and the current situation in the country and the region as a whole.
The statement said the pope's planned tour of Greece, Syria and Malta was welcomed, appreciated and a cause for satisfaction, but regretted that Sfeir would not be able to participate.
"It was the patriarch's intention," the statement explained, "to participate in celebrations accompanying the visit had it not been for the political character it assumed in Lebanese public opinion, making an 'issue' out of it that departed from its pastoral nature.
"This is deeply regrettable," said the statement, cited by the paper.
Sfeir has been leading a campaign demanding the end of Syria's military presence in Lebanon.
A number of politicians had encouraged Sfeir's participation in welcoming the pope to Damascus, in a bid to improve relations between the two countries – Albawaba.com
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