CYPRUS – On December 2, 2021, eleven years after the visit of Pope Benedict XVI, Pope Francis visited the island of Cyprus for a three-day stay. Located between Lebanon, Turkey and Syria, this small island of the Mediterranean Sea, mostly inhabited by Orthodox Christians, has been facing an unprecedented migrant crisis for several years.
Cyprus, a EU member state with a surface area of 9,251 km2, is a focal point for all issues related to migration. According to Nicos Nouris, the Cypriot Minister of the Interior, migrants and asylum seekers represent 4% of the island’s population, which currently stands at around 1.2 million. The majority of these refugees come from Turkey, mainly because of the Turkish control established over the north of the country. They are pouring in from all over, seeking asylum in Europe. By visiting the island, Pope Francis thus placed the migration issue at the heart of his message.
“[Cyprus] is an open door, a harbor that unites,” he proclaimed during his first day on the island. “Cyprus, as a crossroads of civilizations, has an innate vocation to encounter, favored by the welcoming character of the Cypriot people.”
On the morning of Friday, December 3rd, the Pope was welcomed by the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem Pierbattista Pizzaballa, during a mass which was celebrated at the GSP Stadium. His Beatitude Patriarch Pierbattista Pizzaballa was accompanied by his Excellency Bishop Boulos Marcuzzo, as well as Fr. Jamal Khader, Patriarchal Vicar in Jordan, Fr. Jerzy Kraj, the appointed Patriarchal Vicar for Cyprus, Fr. Nikodemus Schnabel, O.S.B, the Patriarchal Vicar for the Migrants and Asylum Seekers, Fr. Bernard Poggi, Rector of the Latin Patriarchal Seminary of Beit Jala, Fr. Francesco Voltaggio, Rector of Redemptoris Mater Seminary of Galilee, and Fr. Davide Meli, Chancellor of the Patriarchate.
During the afternoon, Pope Francis then listened to the testimony of four refugees from Sri Lanka, Cameroon, Iraq and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, before sharing an ecumenical prayer with migrants at the Parish Church of the Holy Cross, in Nicosia. Denouncing “universal slavery” and urging Europe to “unite” and to act, (“May the Lord awaken the conscience of all of us in front of all these things. We cannot be silent and look away at this culture of indifference!”), he also addressed the migrants by quoting the Gospel: “You are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God” (Eph 2:19).
The Patriarch also spoke about this meeting in a speech about the welcoming of migrants, in which he echoed the heart of the Pope’s message: “[The phenomenon of migration] is a global phenomenon, that is present everywhere and which requires global responses, and about which the international community cannot fail to question itself. History teaches us that erecting barriers is never the solution, because barriers represent fear, erase any promise of the future and highlight our lack of vision.”
During his stay, the Holy Father also met with the Holy Synod of the Cypriot Orthodox Church. He used the opportunity to emphasize the importance of the relationship between Catholic and Orthodox communities. “We are thus heirs of the same apostolic zeal, and a single path joins us, that of the Gospel,” he said. “It is my heartfelt hope that there will be increased opportunities for encounter, for coming to know one another better, for eliminating preconceptions and for listening with docility to our respective experiences of faith. This will prove for each of us an exhortation and incentive to do better, and bring a spiritual fruit of consolation.”
Two of the vicariates of the Latin Patriarchate are particularly involved with this visit of Pope Francis. First, the Latin Patriarchal Vicariate for Cyprus, founded in 1847 and represented by four Cypriot parishes, three of which are run by Franciscans. Second, the Vicariate for Migrants and Asylum Seekers (formerly known as the Coordination for the Pastoral among Migrants, founded in 2011 and transformed into a Vicariate in 2018 by Patriarch Pizzaballa), which works to ensure pastoral work among migrants throughout the Diocese of Jerusalem.
By: Cécile Leca/ lpj.org