by John Gavin Nolan
Pope Pius Xs 18 June 1911 appointment of an apostolic exarch (bishop) for Byzantine Catholics in Thrace, Macedonia and part of Asia Minor1 infuriated the Greek Orthodox. This is no doubt because they recognized it for what it was: an open attempt on the part of the Holy See to organize a Greek Catholic community, with native missionaries, for the conversion of the Greeks.2
Latin Catholics in Greece and Turkey had had their own hierarchies from the time of the Crusades, but they were not perceived as a threat to the Orthodox because they were foreigners, or the descendants of foreigners. However, the Byzantine Catholics, who called themselves Greek Catholics, were to the Orthodox an opprobrium, subversives, wolves in sheeps clothing — plainly and simply, a Vatican-crafted Trojan horse. They numbered not more than 3,000 and most of them were farmers and small businessmen in eastern Thrace. Nevertheless, the Orthodox considered these Byzantine Catholics an insult to the nation and an embarrassment to the Phanar (the section of Constantinople that became the chief Greek quarter after the Turkish conquest).
To the Greeks, Orthodoxy and patriotism were practically synonymous. Moreover, despite their defection from Orthodoxy, they continued to use the Byzantine rite, which meant that in their worship and customs they were almost indistinguishable from the Orthodox and, therefore, all the more dangerous as missionaries from Rome. To make matters worse, the person selected as exarch, Isaiah Papadopoulos, had himself been born an Orthodox, and to Greek Catholics he was a living symbol of the persecuted Church. One year earlier, while administering the sacraments, he had nearly lost his life at Orthodox hands3
Fifty-nine years old, and of such genuine piety that his colleagues in Constantinople, and later in Rome, called him the saint, Bishop Papadopoulos was born in Pyrgos (in the Peloponnesus) in 1854.4 His Orthodox parents disowned him when, influenced by the union movement Father John Marango had started among the Orthodox in Constantinople,5 he became a Catholic at the age of 25. Ordained a priest five years later, Father Papadopoulos organized Byzantine Catholic missions in Malgara, near Gallipoli, and in Daudeli and Lisgar in eastern Thrace. In 1907, the apostolic delegate in Constantinople, Archbishop Giovanni Tacci, under whom he would later work in Rome, appointed Papadopoulos his vicar general6 for Byzantine Catholics and their superior in Turkey and Greece.