The Church of Greece in late October signed with the Patriarchate of Moscow and all Russia a cooperation agreement for the development, projection and promotion of pilgrimage tourism, and said at the time it is eyeing a similar collaboration with the Opera Romana Pellegrinaggi (ORP), the Vatican\'s official bureau of pilgrimage tours.
Metropolitan Chryssostomos of Dodoni, head of the Synodic Bureau of Pilgrimage Tours, told a conference on Thursday at the 28th Philoxenia international tourism exhibition in Thessaloniki that a cooperation agreement has already been signed with the Moscow Patriarchate\'s pilgrimage center while similar collaborations were being prepared with the other Orthodox Churches and the Vatican\'s ORP.amna
Delivering a greeting on behalf of Archbishop Ieronymos of Athens and All Greece, he explained that the purpose of the accords is a more systematic collaboration and coordination of actions in the field of pilgrimage tours, which he said were much more than the layman\'s perception of religious tourism, and is founded on four spiritual axes for the promotion of the religious, historic and cultural wealth combined with the development of an ecological conscience.amna
\"It is proof of the role the Church is called on to play in the course of time, which is not limited to unilaterally meeting the religious needs but extends to an overall confrontation of the problems and crises faced by the people, which frequently characterize entire eras and periods of history,\" Chryssostomos explained.
He noted that great interest has been expressed by private and public agencies in Greece and abroad for collaboration with the Synodic Bureau for the compilation of multi-lingual, digital (CD and DVD format) publications of all the cultural monuments, pilgrimage sites and monasteries of the Church of Greece, adding that tangible and visible results on this were expected in the near future.amna
Meanwhile, the establishment of an Athos House office in St. Petersburg that could serve as a center for attracting visitors to pilgrimage destinations in Northern Greece was being discussed between the Russian city\'s municipal authorities and the Thessaloniki municipal authorities, Thessaloniki Mayor Yiannis Boutaris announced at the conference.
He also noted that Thessaloniki was already in collaboration with the municipality of Veria for projection of the pilgrimage tour that traces the footsteps of St. Paul in Northern Greece, while he also noted that there are more than 15 UNESCO-designated world heritage monuments in Thessaloniki and its \"geographical neighborhood\", such as the Mt. Athos all-male monastic community.amna
Metropolitan Anthimos of Thessaloniki told the conference that more than 200,000 pilgrims from all over Greece and abroad worshipped the Axion Esti icon of the Virgin Mother from Mt. Athos in the space of 21 days from October 13 to November 3 while it was on display at the Saint Demetrios Church in Thessaloniki.amna
\"Pilgrims arrived on charter flights from Russia, by car from the Balkans, and Greeks from all over the country. Many of them waited up to two-and-a-half hours on line to worship the icon,\" he said, adding that despite the fact that the arrival of the icon in Thessaloniki had not been widely publicized, \"the participation of the faithful was unprecedented\".
The icon, which has been in the safekeeping of the Karyes Monastery on Mt. Athos for more than 1,000 years, travelled to Thessaloniki for celebrations marking the 100th anniversary of the city\'s liberation from Ottoman rule at the request of the local ecclesiastical and city authorities.