Greek Church Warns Of ‘Tsunami Of Poverty’

26/8/2011

Greece will face a desperate situation this autumn, with a wave of poverty stemming from its crippled economy, a spokesman for the Orthodox Church in Athens warns.

Speaking to Sky’s business presenter Jeff Randall for a special programme on Greece’s financial woes, Costis Dimtsas described the added pressures the Church were facing in the provision of help for the poor.

“We are at the beginning of the wave,” he said.

“At this moment, we just learnt that the tsunami is coming. In September we will see it, and next year we will see the results.”

The Church runs a number of feeding stations and shelters around Greece, through a project known as ‘The Mission’.

Since the crisis began, those centres have seen a sharp increase in the number of Greeks seeking help.

“About 60% of the beneficiaries are now people of Greek origin,” Mr Dimtsas said.

“Two years ago, the statistics were inverse. We had 25-30% Greeks and the rest were immigrants.
“We are handing out 10,000 meals per day. We’ve been doing it for the last three months in order to confront the financial crisis.

“The tragedy is the increase in ages – unemployed people who are over 45 and cannot find a job again, and older people who are suffering lately from the reduction of their pensions.”

Sky News visited one feeding station in central Athens where we were met with hostility.
Beneficiaries refused to be filmed, urging us to seek out the rich who they believe are responsible for the crisis, rather than the poor.

But while the Church visibly serves up support for those squeezed by higher taxes and lower pensions, some accuse it of being disingenuous.

The former finance minister Stephanos Manos says the Orthodox Church, the biggest landowner Greece after the state, is not making its full contribution.

“Very conveniently, there’s no land registry, so no one really knows what you own – and in particular, no one really knows what the church owns,” he said.

“The church has flatly refused to give a full description of its landownings because they know if people know what they are, they’ll ask, ‘why don’t we tax them?'”

Mr Manos claimed that many Greek politicians were keen to keep influential religious leaders on their side, resulting in “special treatment” for the Church.

But the Orthodox Chruch disputes those accusations.

“That is a myth – a Greek myth,” said Mr Dimtsas.

“The Church pays all her taxes. All the existing taxes. It suits the parties of the left to talk about the presumed Church property.”

Mr Dimtsas said that since 1952 the Church had given 92% property to the state, which he claims was wasted.

Of what remains, at least its 70% is woodland and therefore not of use to the Church, he said.
“The state cannot ask us to do this social work, without any revenues and at the same time to pay property taxes,” he went on.

“The Archbishop of Athens says that this crisis is not financial but spiritual.

“Mainly the crisis is in our minds, and has been created from the over-consumption of the Greek people. This, in my opinion, is the source of the evil.”

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