On the second day of his visit, Pope Francis met the people of the Church of Cyprus. On Friday 3 December, in the GSP stadium in Nicosia, some ten thousand faithful gathered, who sang and waved flags as they waited for the Pope to arrive. The Pope’s morning had begun with the visit to His Beatitude Chrysostomos II, the Orthodox Archbishop of Cyprus, and the meeting with the Holy Synod (the highest authority of the autocephalous Orthodox Church of Cyprus) and then really got underway with his arrival at the stadium. It was the time the inhabitants of Cyprus had been waiting for the most; they wanted to meet the Pope, have a word of hope and be able to take part in the mass with him.
The Holy Father was welcomed by the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, Pierbattista Pizzaballa, who gave some brief historical background to account for the past and the present of the island: “After the fall of St John of Acre in 1291, Cyprus welcomed the religious communities that had fled from the Holy Land, in particular the Franciscans, who made such a contribution to the care of the Catholics and who, for many years, together with other priests and religious of the dioceses, have continued to contribute to welcoming immigrants and all people, especially the poorest.” Cyprus, according to Pizzaballa, shares the wounds of Europe and of the Middle East, wounds that are political, military and religious. “Today, too, therefore, our vicissitudes must not become a pretext to stop the announcement.”.
In the homily, the Holy Father commented on the Gospel of the day of the two blind men who were healed by Jesus (Matthew 9, 27-31): “They are blind, yet they can see what count most: they recongize Jesus as the Messiah who has come to the world.” Pope Francis then dwelled on three passages of the meeting and conversion of the two characters: to go to Jesus to recover, to bear together the wounds and announce the Gospel with joy. “Brothers and sisters, the Lord Jesus passes, he also passes through out streets of Cyprus, he listens to the cry of our blindness, he wants to touch our eyes, he wants to touch our hearts, he wants to bring us to the light, to be reborn and to make us get up again inside.”
Confirming his attention for the most forgotten, after the mass, the Pope also wanted to meet the Director of the prison of Cyprus, who greeted him and gave him a gift on behalf of the prisoners, including migrants who have been imprisoned because they had no papers.
Migrants were at the centre of the ecumenical prayer that was held in the afternoon in the Latin Church of the Holy Cross in Nicosia, in the care of the friars of the Custody of the Holy Land.
The ecumenical prayer with the migrants
Francis, who decided seven months ago to emigrate to Cyprus, waited for him for hours in front of the door of the church, holding a canvas: “I have painted the portrait of the Pope and I would like to give it to him,” he explained, very moved. The emotion of the migrants was that of feeling that they were the centre of the Pope’s attention.
“I am here to meet Pope Francis, I come from Paphos, but I only arrived here a month ago from Niger, together with my brother”, Stéphane, only just nineteen, explained.
The groups of migrants who gathered together were of different origins, including Cypriot. “My family had a house in Famagusta, in northern Cyprus, but after the Turkish occupation, we were forced to emigrate, so I too have become a migrant for political reasons,” one woman explained.
“We come from the Philippines and we work here in Cyprus,” said other women outside the church. “We are Catholics and we are here because we want to see him,” one of them added.” Pope Francis has great humanity,” another said.
While dozens of migrants and refugees crowded around the church outside, some of them gave their testimony to the Pope inside the church.
“I am often asked who I am,” said Thamara from Sri Lanka. Maccolins, from Cameroon, revealed that he had been “wounded by hate” during his life, while Roz from Iraq said he was a person “on a journey”. Mariamie, from the Democratic Republic of Congo, on the other hand, defined herself as “full of dreams.”
After having listened to their words and the greetings by Elisabeth Chrysanthou, Member of the Board of Directors of Caritas Cyprus, the Pope said with commotion that he himself said he came from “beauty of truth.” “Listening to you, looking at you in the face, my memory goes beyond suffering,” said the Pope. You have arrived here but how many of your brothers and your sisters have been lost on the way? How many desperate people start off on the walk in very difficult conditions, even precarious, and are not able to arrive? We can start together and speak about this sea which has become a huge cemetery [...].May this island, marked by a painful division – I am looking at the wall, there – may it become with the grace of God a laboratory of fraternity. I thank all those who are working for this “(here is his complete speech).
Words of sincere gratitude were then pronounced in Greek by the Franciscan Fr. Zacheusz Dulniok, deputy parish priest of the Holy Cross where the celebration was held.
As the ideal continuation of the Pope’s trip to Cyprus, which comes to a conclusion on the morning of 4 December, Pope Francis said that “in the coming weeks” he will offer a home in Italy to about twelve refugees, including some of those who greeted him at the end of the prayer.