Pope Francis’ recent visit to Greece, is something that for us, who belong to mixed marriages, is an “injection of hope,” because I’m convinced that we, Christian families, have an important role to help in that longed-for unity because we live it on our own reality. In fact, I’ve read quite positive comments in Greece’s Orthodox media, which is not something that one can take for granted,” said Ivette, laywoman in this country.
Exaudi accompanied Pope Francis on the papal flight of his 35th international Apostolic Journey to Cyprus and Greece, from December 2-6, 2021, and had the opportunity to talk with Ivette Valle Konstantopoulou, a faithful Catholic who went to the Mass in Athens’ Megaron Concert Hall on December 5, Second Sunday of Advent and her birthday.
Ivette, a native of El Salvador, is an architect and lives in Greece, the country of her husband, an Orthodox Christian. They live in a city of the Peloponnese with their daughter. She said she went to the Pope’s Mass in Athens with a group of faithful of Saint Andrew’s parish of Patras. Moreover, she designed the Nativity Scene in the Cathedral of Saint Dionysius in Athens, where the Successor of Peter met with Bishops, priests, men and women religious, seminarians and catechists.
In regard to Francis’ visit to Greece, she said “we are very happy with Pope Francis’ visit to this country, where we, Catholics, are a minority” and “he is a blessing wherever he goes, an occasion to unify the Catholics of a country and a call to unity with the Orthodox.”
The Pope’s Arrival, An “Injection of Hope”
This “is something that for people like me, who belong to mixed marriages, is an’ injection of hope,’ because I’m convinced that we, Christian families, have an important role to help in that longed-for unity because we live it in our own reality. In fact, I have read quite positive comments in Greece’s Orthodox media, which is something that one cannot take for granted here,” she continued.
“The fact that for the first time a national television channel broadcast a Catholic Mass is something unprecedented, which will enable not only Catholics, who can’t attend in person, to follow it but it will give the opportunity to the predominantly Orthodox population to see how a Eucharistic celebration of ours is done.
Nativity Scene in the Cathedral
Before the Pope arrived in Greece, we already felt that “expectation”, knowing that for a second time a Pope would visit the Cathedral of Saint Dionysius in Athens (Saint John Paul II visited it on May 4, 2001). As Ivette also attended Saint John Paul II’s Mass (in the OAKA Stadium) she still remembers “the atmosphere on that occasion in which for the first time a Pope returned to Greece after the 1054 schism.”
“By chance, the altar boy who had been an altar server in that Mass and who is now a professional, helped me in setting up the Nativity Scene in the Cathedral (of Saint Dionysius in Athens), and for whose design I am responsible. It thrills me to think that an original project, which covers an area of 30 square meters, will be seen by the Pope and by thousands of people. And as Christianity began with the birth of Jesus, the theme coincides with that call to unity, because we all meet in Jesus,” said the architect.
The Mass, a Wink on Her Birthday
“For me in particular, Jesus winked His eye when I wanted to give him a lovely Nativity Scene for His birthday. He in turn gave me the gift of being able to attend a Mass in Greece presided over by Pope Francis himself on my birthday.” This confirms “once again something I heard a friend of mine of the Opus Dei say: ‘God doesn’t let Himself be outdone in generosity.’”
Ivette also pointed out how the General Coordinator of the Pontiff’s visit to Greece, Father Giorgio, was the parish priest of the church she frequents and is now the parish priest of Athens’ Cathedral, hence, she was able to know “first hand” some of the aspects <of the visit>. Up to recently, she also collaborated with the Pastoral Committee in the organization of the commemorative events of the 450th anniversary of the Christians’’’ triumph in the Battle of Lepanto, so it was a pleasure for her to “acknowledge them in television broadcasts and in the Cathedral the previous day,” during the Bishop of Rome’s meeting with the Catholic community in the Catholic Cathedral of the Greek capital on December 4.
In fact, as she was already in the capital since the day of His Holiness’ arrival in Greece, “I didn’t have the experience of travelling with the parish group on the bus to Athens, but I was with Mrs. Maria and her husband on Saturday in which she, as representative of the catechists, addressed Pope Francis, who then invited us to pray the Our Father together in the Cathedral.
The Our Father in Greek
Given that in this ceremony the Our Father was prayed in Greek, Ivette said that it made her very pleased that “all this was happening in this country in the language we speak, to which the Holy Father made reference.” She was also very happy to “recognize the priests I know and to think of the great gift it was for them to concelebrate the Holy Eucharist simultaneously with the Pope. I’m an ordinary parishioner, so my attention is focused on our priests, on the fruits these days will bring.”
After promoting the celebration of Lepanto referred to above, “I saw with admiration how God surpassed my expectations again, as — in the desire to stimulate the praying of the Holy Rosary in this country, where, thanks to the Christians’ victory in Lepanto –, the feast of the Virgin of the Rosary was established, I saw Pope Francis handing out Rosaries to the Bishops of Greece in Greece.”
In his homily in the Mass of Athens, the Holy Father pointed out two aspects of Saint John the Baptist: the place where he was, the desert, and the content of his message, conversion.” This reflection touched Ivette a lot “because quite a few years have passed without my being able to exercise my profession as an architect in a remunerated way and in the midst of that personal ‘desert,” which means my not having the capacity to pay my obligations with my trade union (health and retirement insurance), God has enabled me to do projects for the Church, which I’ve done as a volunteer over the past five years (I am referring to the Nativity Scenes of Saint Andrew’s parish and of the Athens Cathedral).”
“I’ll only say that while the people have shown their satisfaction with those artistic installations, I’ve had to offer up a dose of pain, which makes me grow, and in the end, I reflect with the Holy Father’s homily, what matters is that ‘the Lord prefers littleness and humility.’”
“In my daily offering of works to the Lord, I find myself unable to offer Him something I can buy with the product of the remuneration for a job, but I discover that I can offer Him my silent work, my not knowing if at my age my situation can change. So I thank the Lord for loving me because I know He sees my heart and I abandon myself to Him knowing that He’s with me to guide me on a path of conversion,” she adds. She also highlights the reference to metanoia, to think beyond and to see with the eyes of faith what God is forging in my heart.”
As she begins the 55 years of her life on earth, the architect wishes to “have the hope that God will help me and, with the commitment to pray the Holy Rosary daily, in the private group that I lead for that purpose in a means of the social networks, with that objective, I know that our Mother, the Most Holy Virgin accompanies me, as does our father Saint Joseph.”
Sense of Community
In the Offertory of the Mass, Ivette recognized “the young Filipino woman that leads the group of young people of Athens, the youth that held the Pope’s microphone, who also helped in setting up the Cathedral’s Nativity Scene, and “some of my parishes that take part in the group ‘Let’s Pray the Rosary Together.’”
They sat together in the same row to follow the Eucharist and “this strengthened our sense of community, we built a memory together. My goddaughter, who was also there, took a photo of the group; we had our picture taken together, those little human details that unite us . . . Then we went together to eat because, after all, that day was my birthday.”
For me, “who with my daughter constitute the totality of the practicing Catholic population in the city we live in — which means for us that, to go to Mass on Sunday in person we must travel a distance of 100 kilometers –, it has been very refreshing for the soul to be able to take part in that Eucharist. “ The architect said she offered this up for cancer patients, “as there is in Athens a hospital to treat patients suffering from this disease, under the protection of Saint Sabas, whose feast was that day.
Proud to Be “Greek and Catholic”
The next day, December 6 in the morning, she received “the news of the death around midnight in Greece of a cousin of mine, afflicted by that disease. I believe her departure that day was an answer from Heaven to free her, in a natural way, from the suffering that disease caused her.”
“I’m going home, after going to Mass for her eternal rest and very grateful for the hospitality of which I received in Athens, with a sentiment of pride to be Greek and Catholic, and of feeling ourselves slightly more accepted by the locals, “ she concludes.