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Greece struggles to help needy

03 May 2012

by Gerald Butt

Gruelling task: a volunteer prepares food at the Agia Zonis Orthodox Church soup kitchen in Athens on Tuesday of last week REUTERS

Gruelling task: a volunteer prepares food at the Agia Zonis Orthodox Church soup kitchen in Athens on Tuesday of last week REUTERS

ST PAUL’s, Athens, is co-operating with the Greek Orthodox Church as the latter struggles under the finan­cial difficulties faced by Greece in caring for the increasing numbers of the poor and needy.

Each day, the senior chaplain of St Paul’s, Canon Malcolm Bradshaw, helps to feed about 800 people in the centre of Athens. Most of them are homeless and jobless migrants. The scheme, known as the Church in the Street, is run by the Anglican Church in partnership with a number of African Pentecostal churches.

“Most of the migrants are from Af­ghanistan, Algeria, Iran, Iraq, and the west coast of Africa,” Canon Brad­shaw said. “They came to Greece thinking it would be an easy entry to Europe. Now they have nothing.”

The biggest schemes of this kind are run by the Greek Orthodox Church, but the financing of such schemes is closely tied up with the country’s debt-ridden government. “The Orthodox Church provides the ultimate safety-net,” Canon Brad­shaw said. “Some 10,000 meals are provided each day in Athens alone, and around 250,000 in the whole country.”

The crisis facing the Greek Ortho­dox Church and Greece enters a new phase with the general elections on Sunday. In the view of Canon Brad­shaw, if the voters “go with austerity, they know they will see a rapid drop still further in income and their spending ability. On the other hand, if they don’t back this, then it’s likely that Greece will come out of the euro, and that would be disastrous for the country.”

So tough have the austerity meas­ures been that many thousands of Greeks feel that they can no longer keep going. As a result, the suicide rate has increased rapidly over recent months.

Some Greeks blame at least part of their suffering on the presence of illegal immigrants, and this has helped win support for an ultra-right-wing party, Golden Dawn, which is campaigning on the plat­form of removing all illegal im­migrants.

The growing anti-foreigner feel­ing makes the Church in the Street pro­gramme more important than ever. “Signs of solidarity with St Paul’s have come from one or two of the chaplaincies in Europe,” Canon Brad­shaw said. “For instance, St George’s chaplaincy, in Berlin, has donated €1300 to help those facing hardship.” Also, the churchwarden of St Michael’s, Paris, has offered to help.

In April last year, in response to a request from an African Pentecostal/Charismatic church in central Athens, St Paul’s asked for, and received help from, St Michael’s, in acquiring copies of the Bible in French for migrants from Franco­phone countries.

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