At 2 pm Italian time the plane with Pope Francis on board (first time with Ita) landed at Larnaca airport in Cyprus, the first stop on this 35th apostolic journey abroad, which will also take him to Greece.
This morning, before leaving Casa Santa Marta, the Pope greeted 12 refugees accompanied by the Almoner, Cardinal Konrad Krajewski. Among them, some had come to Italy on the papal plane in 2016. The Pope then stopped at the Parish of Santa Maria degli Angeli, near Fiumicino Airport, where he had prayed in front of the image of the Madonna of Loreto and met 15 refugees hosted by the parish itself.
And once again the goal is a crossroads. Meeting places on the edge of Europe and the Middle East, borders between East and West. The thirty-fifth apostolic journey that today leads Pope Francis to cross the Mare Nostrum to reach the island of Cyprus and Greece, is full of symbolic and ecumenical significance.
A journey to the dawn of the nascent Church, above all – as declared by the Pope himself – a return to the sources: of the apostolic faith, of unity among Christians of different confessions, of fraternity, to the sources of civilization in the places that are the cradle of the culture of West and therefore “ancient sources of Europe”. And in these places where the memory of Western culture, history, spirituality and civilization is rooted, he will approach “a humanity wounded in the flesh of so many migrants in search of hope” as he said on the eve of his departure.
And so he will take to Lesbos for the second time to touch once again with his bare hands what he called “the greatest humanitarian catastrophe since the Second World War”. In these places the Gospel took root, they are the way of the Acts of the Apostles. And precisely the book of Acts – with the apostles Paul and Barnabas and the story of their travels through Greece and the Mediterranean, the story of the birth of the first Christian communities, of the early Church – is the filigree of the journey.
The island of Cyprus is the land of Saint Barnabas, born in Paphos. In Greece, the apostle of the Gentiles, Saint Paul, left indelible traces. Philippi was the first place evangelized in Europe and it was precisely from Greece that Christianity spread throughout the European continent. Alongside the meetings with small Catholic communities, there will therefore be days full of meetings with synods and representatives of the Orthodox Churches. In this perspective, the red thread of the journey will be an important step to deepen the dialogue of charity. For Pope Francis, meetings and even travels always help to make this brotherhood grow.
“When we went to Lesbos in Greece with Patriarch Bartholomew and Hieronymus to meet the refugees, we felt like one. We were one. One », Francesco said to Future, commenting on the visit to the refugee camp of Lesbos in April 2016. Pope Francis has repeatedly explained that in this historical moment unity is achieved by walking together with works of charity. And also with common prayer. They are the key to the ecumenical journey.
Francis will thus celebrate an ecumenical prayer with migrants in Cyprus, while in Greece again he will visit the island of Lesbos-Mytilene with Hieronymus to give a clear sign that helping migrants and refugees is a great ecumenical challenge, which it also needs a common collaboration.
Tomorrow I will go to Cyprus and then to Greece to pay a visit to the dear peoples of those countries rich in history, spirituality and civilization. It will be a journey to the sources of the apostolic faith and fraternity between Christians of various confessions. I will also have the opportunity to approach a humanity wounded in the flesh of so many migrants in search of hope: I will go to Lesvos. I ask you, please, to accompany me with prayer. Thanks.
(Pope Francis. To the final greetings of the general audience of December 1, 2021)
The arrival in Cyprus is expected today in the early afternoon. The first meeting on the agenda – to begin with the source of the Gospel that unites Christians – is this time with priests and ecclesial movements, then the visit to the President of the Republic followed by a meeting with the authorities and the diplomatic corps and the day following completely dedicated to ecumenical meetings starting with the visit to the Orthodox Archbishop Crysostomos II.
Cyprus is West and East, the eastern gate of Europe and the western gate of the Middle East, and today an island in the middle of a “Mediterranean that has become the largest cemetery in the world”. The Mare nostrum where humanity sinks today, but where its shores instead saw God become man and those same waters crossed by the first who announced the history of salvation. Yes, Cyprus is geographically in a strategic position.
But Cyprus is still today also geographically divided in two after the invasion of the Turkish army in 1974, and therefore, precisely because of the dividing wall, a place of necessary dialogue. At the end of the final mass on the island, the Pope will also meet some exponents of the “Religious Track”, the initiative born under the auspices of the Swedish embassy in Cyprus, which aims precisely at the mending of the country.
In his speech to the diplomatic corps in January 2020, Francis had spoken of the current Cypriot question as follows: “I would also like to express the encouragement of the Holy See for the negotiations for the reunification of Cyprus, which would increase regional cooperation, favoring the stability of the whole the Mediterranean area “. This is a long-open wound and it will not be ignored.