Pope Francis arrives in Cyprus on the day Pope Francis arrives, aiming to highlight the issue of migrants
Pope Francis arrived in Cyprus on Thursday, beginning a five-day trip that would also take him to Greece and its island of Lesbos, where in 2016 he made a compelling visit to refugees living in horrid circumstances and brought some back to Rome on his plane.
Despite the world's preoccupation with the Omicron variant of the coronavirus this week, Francis' 35th abroad trip, which ends at 85 later this month, reflects his determination to keep a global focus on the plight of migrants and lands stricken by war.
The trip, which began as the Vatican said the pope had accepted the resignation of Archbishop Michel Aupetit of Paris, after French news media reports about his relationship with a lady, will have other characteristics of the Francis papacy, such as supporting tiny Catholic minorities and reaching out to other religious leaders, this time in the Greek Orthodox Church. Francis, who met with asylum seekers at the Vatican near the airport before departing for Cyprus, will assist relocate to Italy some migrants in Cyprus and possibly Lesbos again.
Desargents, church officials, and children chanting, "Francis, we love you," Francis spoke at a private gathering at the presidential palace after being greeted on the tarmac in Cyprus by dignitaries, church officials, and children singing, "Francis, we love you."
I have come as a pilgrim to a country that hasn't isolated peoples but historically great, Francis said. To an island that down the centuries has not isolated peoples but has brought them together; to a land whose borders are the sea; to a place that is the eastern gate of Europe and the western gate of the Middle East.
The trip is the third international one this year for the pope, who is believed to have received a booster shot, though that has not been confirmed. He made a historical pilgrimage to Iraq in March and a politically symbolic trip to Hungary and Slovakia in September, in which he delivered a strong message against the dangers of nationalistness.
This trip seeks to refocus attention on his pontificate's priorities, such as opening borders and welcoming the destitute, and comes as migrants are again facing horrible conditions and tragic deaths, including at the Belarus-Poland border and the English Channel, where at least 27 people died last week. It also comes at an unpredictable and deeply concerning phase of the pandemic, as countries around the world shut their borders to try to protect their populations from a variant whose effects are still very far unknown.
When asked about coronavirus precautions, Matteo Bruni, the Vatican spokesman, said, "The recommendation in general is prudence," and worries that the new variant would eclipse the trip's main themes. Francis himself spoke Thursday about how Cyprus has been darkened by the pandemic, which has prevented many visitors from visiting it and seeing its beauty," as well as damage its economy.
Francis is the second pope to visit Cyprus after his predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, and he met with local Catholics at the Maronite Cathedral of Our Lady of Grace. Cyprus is an ancient Christian nation, and tradition holds that St. Paul arrived here around A.D. 46 to preach the Gospel with Barnabas, a Cypriot and a saint.
Francis, at the cathedral, said he was visiting this land and traveling as a pilgrim in the footsteps of the great apostle Barnabas, saying that the diversity of the church "reflects Cyprus's own place in the European continent and the island's history of intertwined peoples, a mosaic of encounters. He added, Walls do not and should not exist in the Catholic Church.
He then led a Fiat 500 to the president's palace, where, following walking on red carpets before color guards and marching bands, he told the dignitaries, many wearing masks emblazoned with their national flags, that Cyprus, as a geographical, historical, cultural, and religious crossroads, is in a position to be a peacemaker. May it be a workshop of peace in the Mediterranean, he explained to the dignitaries, many wearing masks
Despite the fact that the Cypriot government has complained about having the highest percentage of migrants in the European Union given its tiny population, Francis provided the statistic in a more positive light, calling it just the latest layer in a varied texture centuries in the making. He acknowledged, however, that maintaining the multicolored and multifaceted beauty of the whole is no easy thing.
Nicos Anastasiades, the Cyprus president, told Francis that it would make available land to the Vatican to build an embassy, but in the meanwhile, Francis will stay at a Franciscan monastery in Nicosia, Cyprus's divided capital. The medieval city is divided into a Greek and Turkish side, which are separated by a United Nations-protected buffer zone.
Bruni said he will then spend Saturday reaching out to Orthodox leaders and meeting with officials before traveling to Lesbos, which he said had become a symbolic place.
Francis also attempted to make a symbol for Europe in Cyprus, which he argued was obstructed by nationalist interests, but the island is far from a quiet place.
Turkey invaded, claiming that the Turkish Cypriots needed their protection, and it has effectively been partitioned since 1974, when a coup sponsored by the military junta that controlled Greece at the time dismissed the government of Cyprus, and the Turkish Cypriots invaded, arguing that the Turkish Cypriots needed their protection.
Those discussions broke down because Turkey's president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan declared, Turkey will be in Cyprus forever, and rejecting a unified federation, with the pope listening at his side on Thursday. Those talks broke down over Turkey's refusal to remove its troops. Unification efforts in Cyprus, which joined the European Union in 2004, begin and stop periodically, most recently in 2017.
However, a recent increase in migrant arrivals has intensified hard-right, nationalist sentiment, and the resistance of the Republic of Cyprus government, which has sought to stop processing asylum requests, despite the spike in numbers and suspicions that Turkey is sending the migrants to the border, has intensified the animosity between the north and the south.
Cyprus is a tiny, stingray-shaped island between worlds and a crossroads for cultures and migrations, with Turkey to the north, Syria to the east, Israel to the south, and Greece to the West.
Nearly 80 percent of the island's population is Orthodox Christian, and around 20 percent is Sunni Muslim. There are only a limited number of Catholics, including around 38,000, who are most in the Christian command of the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem and have their roots to the Crusades, a figure less than the estimated number of Turkish troops based in the north.