Crucifixion relic featured as Greek clerics launch petition drive on ID cards

Posted: Friday, September 15, 2000

ATHENS, Greece (AP) -- A relic believed by some devout Greek Orthodox to be from the actual cross on which Jesus Christ was crucified is coming to Greece as part of a church campaign to retain a religious designation on state identity cards.

The wood fragment, preserved by Orthodox clergy in Jerusalem, was scheduled for display at Athens Cathedral as the church launched a nationwide petition drive to force a referendum on identity card changes.

''The precious relic of our faith ... is coming at an important moment,'' said the church's head, Archbishop Christodoulos.

The Socialist regime ridiculed the symbolic use of the relic. Government spokesman Tilemahos Hitiris said the display was ''unbelievable.''

The government says the change in mandatory ID cards, due later this year, is required to meet European Union civil rights standards and will not be reconsidered.

The Orthodox Church contends the nation's religious and ethnic character is at stake. More than 97 percent of the native-born population is baptized into the Greek church and Orthodox Christianity is the official religion.

Greece's minority Roman Catholics, Protestants, Jews and Muslims say the change would curb religious discrimination.

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