VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis on Wednesday called for prayer for the people of Greece, shortly after the nation defaulted on a significant loan payment on its more than $300-billion debt.
“The news from Greece regarding the economic and social situation of the country is worrying,” Father Federico Lombardi, Holy See press officer, said in a July 1 statement. “Pope Francis invites all the faithful to unite in prayer for the good of the beloved Greek people.”
Greece faces a debate over the role of austerity measures, such as pension cuts and tax hikes, as it negotiates new financial bailouts with its creditors. The country’s unemployment rate is above 25%, and individuals are unable to remove more than $70 a day from ATMs.
The Vatican’s statement adds that “the dignity of the human person must remain at the center of any political and technical debate, as well as in the taking of responsible decisions.”
“The Holy Father wishes to convey his closeness to all the Greek people, with a special thought for the many families gravely beset by such a complex and keenly felt human and social crisis.”
A June 30 deadline for Greece to make a roughly $1.7-billion payment to the International Monetary Fund came and went.
The country, which is part of the eurozone (a monetary union of 19 European member states), has been in financial crisis for years. Economically the weakest nation in the eurozone, Greece was hit hard during the 2008 global financial crisis. Beginning in 2010, it began receiving financial bailouts, on the condition that it adopt austerity measures, such as pension cuts, tax hikes and public-sector layoffs.
The current ruling party, Syriza, was elected in January on an anti-austerity platform. The next month, Greece negotiated an extension on repaying its debt, but defaulting this week threatens a breakdown of the situation and raises fears of Greece leaving the eurozone.
Greece will hold a referendum Sunday on whether or not to remain in the eurozone and whether or not to support the terms offered by its creditors for a further, third bailout of some $32 billion lasting two years. Germany, the largest creditor to Greece, is strongly in favor of austerity measures in the Mediterranean country as a condition of another bailout.
Greece is also facing a July 20 payment deadline of more than $3.8 billion to the European Central Bank.
It is feared that without another bailout or an extension of Greece’s repayment deadlines, the nation’s crisis could affect the economic stability of the eurozone.