NICOSIA: Pope Francis said on Thursday that “walls of fear” and nationalism were slowing down Europe’s progress, speaking on a visit to Cyprus, a frontline nation in the continent’s migrant crisis.
“The European continent needs reconciliation and unity; it needs courage and enthusiasm if it is to move forward... for it will not be the walls of fear and the vetoes dictated by nationalist interests that ensure its progress,” he said in Nicosia.
Pope Francis called for unity as Europe deals with the arrival of refugees and migrants, speaking on the divided Mediterranean island of Cyprus, a major destination for people fleeing war and poverty.
“We need to welcome and integrate one another, and to walk together as brothers and sisters, all of us,” said the pontiff, 84, at the start of a five-day trip that from Saturday takes him on to Greece.
Speaking in a Maronite church in the Cypriot capital Nicosia, the pope said “the presence of many of our migrant brothers and sisters” had made Cyprus “a true point of encounter between different ethnicities and cultures”.
The island’s experience served as a reminder to Europe that “we need to work together to build a future worthy of humanity, to overcome divisions, to break down walls, to dream and work for unity,” he said.
Speaking of religious diversity in Cyprus, he said: “We should not experience diversity as a threat to identity. We should not be jealous or defensive”.
Pope Francis — on his 35th international trip since becoming pope in 2013 — is the second Catholic pontiff to set foot on Cyprus after Benedict XVI visited in 2010.
The country of one million has a Catholic minority of about 25,000, among them Maronites whose ancestors arrived from Syria and Lebanon, and overseas workers from the Philippines, South Asia and African countries.
“We’re such a small minority so it’s great to feel that you belong to a greater family, the Catholic family,” said Eliana Maltezou, 38, holding her one-year-old son Pavlo, and waving a small Cypriot flag.
Cyprus has been divided since 1974 when Turkish forces invaded and occupied the island’s northern third in response to a coup sponsored by the Greek junta in power at the time.
Only Ankara recognises the self-proclaimed Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus and tensions simmer between the two sides.
The division saw about 200,000 people, including many Maronites from the north, displaced from their homes.
Maronite Monica Despoti, 55, whose village Asomatos remains in the occupied north, said the pope’s visit meant “we’re very, very happy and we also have a hope that with his help we can go back to our motherland.
“We want so badly to go back to our villages to live there and for us it is a hope that we are having the pope here with us.” The majority-Greek speaking south accuses the north of sending migrants across the UN-patrolled Green Line and also says that it receives the highest number of first-time asylum seekers of any EU member country.
The pope has long called for better protection for migrants. In a video message ahead of the trip, Francis described the Mediterranean as a “huge cemetery” for migrants who drowned.
“We know that Pope Francis goes above all to the most vulnerable and marginalised,” the Maronite archbishop of Cyprus, Selim Sfeir, said.
Published in Dawn, December 3rd, 2021