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Among the first to minister to the needs of the dispossessed was Bishop George. Overwhelmed by the refugee crisis — especially after his requests for funding in Europe and the United States went unanswered — the bishop appealed to Father Paul Wattson. The founder of the Franciscan Friars of the Atonement exhorted the readers of his monthly publication, The Lamp, to support the bishop’s relief efforts. In 1922, Father Paul also enlisted the help of Msgr. Richard Barry-Doyle, a British chaplain who worked with the city’s English-speaking Catholic community and a tireless advocate for the Russian refugees.

The three men banded together, creating a Million Dollar Fund in the United States to raise money for Bishop Calavassy’s orphanage, school and church, which the bishop had moved to Athens later that year. Msgr. Barry-Doyle’s “Call to the East“ raised considerable sums and in 1924, with Father Paul, he formed “The Catholic Near East Welfare Association,“ which in its original form supported the humanitarian and pastoral activities of the Eastern Catholic Exarchate in Athens and Constantinople.

Pope Pius XI recognized the value of the new association and in 1926 merged it with another, the Catholic Union, to form the Catholic Near East Welfare Association. The pontiff expanded its mandate to support the activities of the Christian East and to work toward Christian unity, active concerns of both Bishop Calavassy and Father Paul.

In 1932, the Holy See divided the exarchate into two and appointed Dionisios Varoukhas as bishop in Constantinople, which had been renamed Istanbul. Bishop Calavassy remained in Athens, where despite the hostility of the Orthodox hierarchy, he continued his works of charity among the poor, founding a hospital in Athens, a school for handicapped children in Nea Makri and the Pammakaristos Sisters of the Mother of God, who administered these first-class institutions.

Today. The number of Greek Eastern Catholics remains tiny; perhaps 50 remain in Istanbul, where the exarchate functions without a resident priest. However, the cathedral in Athens, dedicated to the Holy Trinity, has become a hub of activity for the city’s Iraqi Christian refugee community, most of whom are Chaldean Catholics. In the last 20 years, Athens has also attracted a number of Romanian and Ukrainian Eastern Catholic workers, who now attend regularly scheduled liturgies at the neo-Byzantine church.

The Orthodox Church of Greece remains hostile to the existence of this church, “which it views as a gratuitous creation of the Catholic Church in Orthodox territory,“ writes Paulist Father Ronald Roberson. In 2008, Pope Benedict XVI appointed a leading canonist and ecumenist, Bishop Dimitrios Salachas, as apostolic exarch in Athens. A member of the international Orthodox-Catholic theological dialogue, the bishop’s greatest challenge remains domestic and concerns not just the position of his tiny church, but its very existence.

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Michael La Civita is CNEWA’s vice president for communications.

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Tags: Christianity Church history Greece Byzantium