Religious Freedom Mission to the European Union in support of Ecumenical Patriarchate
With the blessings of His Eminence Archbishop Demetrios of America, Exarch of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, a delegation from the Order of St. Andrew, led by Archon Ambassador George L. Argyros and National Commander Anthony J. Limberakis, MD, participated in a Religious Freedom Mission to the European Union in pursuit of human rights and religious freedom for the Ecumenical Patriarchate from January 26-February 7, 2010. The delegation traveled to Madrid, Spain, which currently holds the EU presidency; Brussels, Belgium, the headquarters of the EU and ended in Athens, Greece where they joined His All Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew. They were guided by His Eminence Metropolitan Emmanuel of France, Director of the Liaison Office of the Ecumenical Patriarchate to the European Union. Together with Archons Argyros and Limberakis, the delegation also included Archon Christopher Stratakis, Legal Counselor; Fr. Alex Karloutsos, Archon Spiritual Advisor; and Mr. Robert Lapsely, former assistant Secretary of State for California.
Prior to their departure on December 17, 2009 the Archon Leadership met with Assistant Secretary of State Philip H. Gordon at the State Department in Washington to review the religious freedom issues regarding the Ecumenical Patriarchate and to seek the guidance and full support of the United States government for the Archon Religious Freedom Mission. Secretary Gordon was most forthcoming in his support for the religious freedom goals of the Mission.
In preparation for the Mission, the Archon Leadership consulted and met with H.E. Vassilis Kaskarelis, ambassador of Greece to the United States. Ambassador Kaskarelis prior to his post in the United States served with great distinction as Greece's ambassador to the European Union and is well known and respected in the EU community as one of its finest diplomats. Ambassador Kaskarelis facilitated a number of critical meetings throughout the Archon Religious Freedom Mission and for which The Order is most grateful.
The delegation had substantive meetings with government and religious officials which were reported during the mission utilizing the social networking tool "Twitter" for the first time.
Holds Current Presidency of EU
Coordinates negotiations with EU candidate nations, including Turkey
The delegation began their mission in Spain, which took over the rotating 6-month presidency of the European Union on January 1, 2010. Archon Ambassador Argyros served as the United States ambassador to Spain from 2001 to 2004 and his participation in the religious freedom mission offered a unique opportunity for the delegation to interface with the Spanish government. Upon their arrival on January 27, the delegation was joined by Metropolitan Emmanuel of France. Metropolitan Polycarpos of Spain and Portugal later hosted a welcome dinner meeting for the delegation.
On January 28, the Archon delegation met with Jose Maria Contreras, Director General for Religious Affairs of the Ministry of Justice. It was reported at that meeting that Spain will be sponsoring a religious freedom conference in Cordoba this May and the delegation suggested that Turkey's treatment of minorities be included in the agenda. A reception followed that evening at the official residence of Ambassador Alan D. Solomont, the new ambassador of the United States to Spain. Later in the evening, H.E. Ms. Ana Palacio, former Foreign Minister of Spain and current European Parliamentarian and friend of Archon Ambassador Argyros hosted the delegation for dinner at her home in Madrid. She offered insightful commentary on Turkey's accession into the EU.
On January 29, a full schedule of meetings were conducted with Mrs. Inci Ersoy, Minister Counselor of the Turkish Embassy and later with H.E. Luis Felipe Fernandez de la Pena, the Director General of North America at the Spanish Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The delegation later traveled to the US Embassy where meetings were conducted with Ambassador Alan D. Solomont that focused on the core of the mission: promoting the religious freedom of the Ecumenical Patriarchate and all minorities in Turkey while simultaneously supporting Turkey's accession into the EU.
Mrs. Milagros Hernando Echevarria, Director General for International Policy and Security for the EU Presidency of the Government received the delegation at the Presidential Palace for additional meetings.
On Sunday morning, the delegation traveled to the St. Andrew and St. Demetrios Greek Orthodox Cathedral to celebrate the feastday of the Prodigal Son. Members of the Order of St. Andrew offered a donation to Metropolitan Polycarpos for the Metropolis of Spain and Portugal in support of its sacred ministry.
Headquarters of the EU and Home of European Parliament
A full day of meetings ensued on Monday, February 1 in Brussels beginning with His Eminence, Metropolitan Panteleimon of the Metropolis of Belgium who blessed and prayed with the visiting Archons in the chapel. An insightful meeting followed with Mr. Christos Katharios, Head of Division, Responsible for Enlargement at the Council of the European Union.
His Excellency, Ambassador Theodoros Sotiropoulos, Permanent Representative of Greece to the European Union welcomed the delegation and hosted a lunch meeting. Ambassador Sotiropoulos was extremely helpful in securing numerous meetings at the EU. The Archons then traveled to the Permanent Representation of Turkey to the EU and met with H.E. Ambassador Selim Kuneralp where frank discussions took place reviewing the issues of concern, the advocacy of Turkey's EU accession and the 60 Minutes Interview.
They later met with H.E. Archbishop Andre Pierre Louis Dupuy, Apostolic Nuncio to the European Community and concluded the day with H.E. Ambassador Fernando de Galainena, Director of Enlargement Unit and Representative of the Spanish Presidency of the European Council.
On Tuesday, February 2, the delegation experienced a second full day of meetings beginning with Ambassador Howard W. Gutman, Ambassador of the United States to Belgium who graciously hosted a breakfast meeting at the official ambassadorial residence at which time he offered assistance in securing essential meetings during Belgium's EU Presidency which will begin on July 1, 2010. The delegation later met with the Vice President of the European Parliament, Mr. Stavros Lambrinidis, Member of the Group of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats in the European Parliament and Head of the Greek Delegation to the S & D Group.
That afternoon, the members of the delegation had a working lunch with European Parliament member Mrs. Marietta Giannakou, Member of the Group of the European Peoples' Party (Christian Democrats) and European Democrats and Head of their Greek Delegation.
At the European Commission a very important meeting was held with the Director General for Enlargement, Mr. Michael Leigh the top official in the Commission regarding new countries in the process of gaining accession to the EU. In addition to Director General Leigh, Mr. Christos Makridis, Deputy Head of the Unit of Turkey in the Directorate General was present who individually later offered insights into the accession process. A productive hour-long meeting followed with Ambassador William E. Kennard, Ambassador of the United States to the European Union, at the US Embassy which concluded the day's meetings.
Audience with His All Holiness
On Wednesday, February 3, the delgation arrived in Athens, Greece where meetings took place at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs with H.E. Mr. Spyros Kouvelis, the Deputy Foreign Minister.
Following their meeting, the delegation had an audience with Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew who was on an official Apostolic Visit to the Church of Greece.
Later in the evening, an official dinner at the residence of the United States Ambassador to Greece was hosted by Ambassador and Mrs. Daniel V. Speckhard, in honor of Archon Ambassador George L. Argyros and the visiting Archon delegation. Members of the Greek Government including Deputy Minister of Education, Lifelong Learning and Religious Affairs H.E. Mr. John Panaretos and the Chancellor of the Archdiocese of Athens the V. Rev. Archimandrite Gabriel, were present, as was leading Archon Mr. George David.
On Thursday, February 4 the delegation received a rare, private VIP tour of the new Acropolis Museum which recently opened to the public in June 2009. The archaeological museum focuses on the findings of the archaeological site of the Acropolis of Athens and houses nearly 4,000 artifacts found on the rock and on its feet, from the Greek Bronze Age to Roman and Byzantine Greece. The delegation later met with Minister of Culture and Tourism H.E. Mr. Pavlos Yeroulanos.
That afternoon, the delegation met with H.E. Mr. Antonis Samaras, the New Democracy Party President.
Later in the day, the delegation met with Paris Asanakis, attorney and chairman of the Imvrian Association of Athens and other Imvrian Association attorneys to discuss their upcoming visit to the United States seeking human and religious freedom rights for the Greek Orthodox minority residing on the islands of Imvros and Tenedos.
A Byzantine concert in Celebration of the Environment in honor of His All Holiness was held at The Athens Concert Hall and performed by Protopsaltes Lykourgos Angelopoulos and the Greek Byzantine Choir.
On Friday, February 5 the delegation members met with Archon Odysseus F. Sassayiannis, President of the Brotherhood of Pammakaristos Archons of the Ecumenical Patriarchate who reside outside the United States. This initial strategic working lunch hosted by Archon Sassayiannis served to lay the foundation of an ongoing, cooperative relationship between the European and American Archons. Discussions regarding the joint sponsorship of an International Religious Freedom Conference in Brussels by the Order of St. Andrew and the Pammakaristos Brotherhood of Archons were conducted.
The delegation traveled to the Turkish Embassy in Athens to meet with H.E. Mr. Mehmet Hasa Gogus, Ambassador of the Republic of Turkey to Greece. Ambassador Gogus has had extensive experience in human rights and religious freedom in his senior diplomatic career and offered some optimistic commentary regarding religious freedom and the Ecumenical Patriarchate. The meeting was frank, substantive and overall positive in its tone.
Before their departure back to the United States, the Archon delegation briefed the Ecumenical Patriarch on their extensive religious freedom mission in support of the Holy and Sacred See of Constantinople.