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Pope Francis greeted Mariamie Besala Welo, an immigrant from Congo, during an ecumenical prayer with migrants in the Church of the Holy Cross in Nicosia, Cyprus, Dec. 3.
Pope Francis greeted Mariamie Besala Welo, an immigrant from Congo, during an ecumenical prayer with migrants in the Church of the Holy Cross in Nicosia, Cyprus, Dec. 3.
Photo Credit: Paul Haring | Catholic News Service

Analysis | On trip to Greece, Cyprus, Pope Francis reiterates seeing humanity of migrants

The plight of migrants and refugees was one of the major themes of pope’s trip to Cyprus and Greece Dec. 2-6

VATICAN CITY — With passion in Cyprus and reason in Greece, Pope Francis continued to articulate and adjust his teaching on migration.

Pope Francis has made the plight of migrants and refugees a central concern of his ministry. The issue was at the forefront during his trip to Cyprus and Greece Dec. 2-6.

For more than eight years, he has argued against closed borders and closed hearts.

But during his visit Dec. 5 to the Mavrovouni refugee camp on the Greek island of Lesbos and in remarks to reporters flying with him back to Rome the next day, Pope Francis also made it clear that in calling for reaching out to migrants he was not ignoring the complexity of the migration issue or the limits of what some governments can do.

In other words, he does not expect people to look at migration with rose-colored glasses, but he does expect them to look at the actual migrants, refugees and asylum-seekers as brothers and sisters.

The tie of kinship should tip the balance when a community or a country weighs whether it has the resources needed to “welcome, protect, promote and integrate” the newcomers.

A focus on the people, not the numbers, has been constant since the beginning of Pope Francis’ papacy, said Cardinal Michael Czerny, undersecretary of the Migrants and Refugees Section of the Vatican Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development.

“Pope Francis keeps on denouncing the despicable violations of human dignity carried out in the name of a misguided view of national security and tolerated by a culture of indifference,” the cardinal said.

Meeting with migrants Dec. 3 in a Catholic church in Nicosia, Cyprus, Pope Francis’ passion and compassion were on full display as he repeatedly departed from his prepared text.

“How many desperate people have set out in difficult and precarious conditions but did not arrive?” he asked those who had crossed the Mediterranean and made it to Cyprus. “We can think about this sea, which has become a great cemetery. Looking at you, I see the suffering caused by your journey; I see all those people who were kidnapped, sold, exploited and who are still on the journey, we know not where.”

Pope Francis held the hand of a man during a visit with refugees at the government-run Reception and Identification Center in Mytilene, Greece, Dec. 5.
Photo Credit: Paul Haring | Catholic News Service
The tragedy is not hidden, he said, even if people prefer to look the other way.

“We see what is happening, and the worst thing is that we are becoming used to it. ‘Oh yes, today another boat capsized, so many lives were lost,’” people say to themselves. “This ‘becoming used’ to things is a grave illness, a very grave illness, and there is no antibiotic for it,” the pope said. “We have to resist this vice of getting used to reading about these tragedies in the newspapers or hearing about them on other media.”

In the end, he even apologized for going on so long and in such detail, particularly about what he described as “lagers” — government-run detention centers in Libya where many migrants pushed back from Spain, Malta or Italy end up.

“Excuse me if I have spoken of things as they really are,” he said, “but we cannot remain silent and look the other way amid this culture of indifference.”

Those words were not much different from what he had said eight years earlier in Lampedusa, when he mourned the thousands who had died trying to cross the Mediterranean in search of a dignified life for themselves and their families, Cardinal Czerny noted.

Pope Francis stuck closer to his prepared text Dec. 5 when he visited Lesbos for the second time, even though before giving his speech, he had spent half an hour walking through the camp, past the tents and pre-fab shelters, greeting hundreds of asylum-seekers.

“I am here to see your faces and look into your eyes: Eyes full of fear and expectancy, eyes that have seen violence and poverty, eyes streaked by too many tears,” he told them.

In the presence of Greek President Katerina Sakellaropoulou and Greek and U.N. officials, Pope Francis said the global community has rallied to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic and climate change — though perhaps without much success — but it has done very little to come together to assist migrants and the countries hosting them.

“It is easy to stir up public opinion by instilling fear of others,” Pope Francis said at the Mavrovouni refugee camp Dec. 5. “Yet why do we fail to speak with equal vehemence about the exploitation of the poor, about seldom-mentioned but often well-financed wars, about economic agreements where the people have to pay, about covert deals to traffic in arms, favoring the proliferation of the arms trade?”

While the pope was on the shores of the Mediterranean, his concern went much further, especially northward where thousands of hope-filled migrants are shivering in a Belarus winter hoping to cross a newly barbed-wired border into Poland.

“Today it is the fashion to put up walls and barbed wire and concertina wire to impede migration,” he said.


In Greece, Pope expresses concern for democracy’s decline in Europe

Papal journey to Cyprus and Greece also included meeting with Orthodox leaders

By Catholic News Service

Pope Francis talked with Orthodox Archbishop Ieronymos II of Athens and all Greece during a meeting with their delegations in the Throne Room of the archbishopric in Athens, Greece, Dec. 4.
Photo Credit: Paul Haring | Catholic News Service
ATHENS, Greece — From Aristotle to St. Gregory Nazianzus, and from the Acropolis to the olive tree, Pope Francis drew from Greek history and culture to appeal for a faith that is lived in good works and a politics that truly seeks the common good.

Pope Francis’ trip Dec. 2-6 to Cyprus and Greece focused largely on migration issues, but he also met with Orthodox leaders, discussed the decline of democracy in Europe and spoke to youth at a rally.

Pope Francis met with Greek President Katerina Sakellaropoulou, Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis and then a large group of political, civic and cultural representatives.

“Here democracy was born,” he told the representatives. “Yet we cannot avoid noting with concern how today — and not only in Europe — we are witnessing a retreat from democracy.”

“Democracy requires participation and involvement on the part of all; consequently, it demands hard work and patience,” he said. “It is complex, whereas authoritarianism is peremptory, and populism’s easy answers appear attractive.”

A political stance that seeks only popularity and easy answers is not worthy either of the description politics or of a place in a democracy, Pope Francis said.

“Politics is, and ought to be in practice, a good thing, as the supreme responsibility of citizens and as the art of the common good,” he said. “So that the good can be truly shared, particular attention — I would even say priority — should be given to the weaker strata of society.”

Like St. John Paul II before him, Pope Francis apologized to members of the Orthodox Church of Greece for the ways Catholics over the centuries had offended them, and he told Catholic leaders that they must embrace their minority status with humility.

“Here, today, I feel the need to ask anew for the forgiveness of God and of our brothers and sisters for the mistakes committed by many Catholics,” Pope Francis told Orthodox Archbishop Ieronymos II of Athens and all Greece.

While Catholics and Orthodox have the same roots in the preaching of St. Paul and the teaching of the early Church theologians and first ecumenical councils, “tragically, in later times we grew apart,” the pope said.

“Worldly concerns poisoned us, weeds of suspicion increased our distance and we ceased to nurture communion,” Pope Francis said. “Shamefully — I acknowledge this for the Catholic Church — actions and decisions that had little or nothing to do with Jesus and the Gospel — but were instead marked by a thirst for advantage and power — gravely weakened our communion.”

Pope Francis also met with Catholic teenagers and young adults from across Greece at St. Dionysius School in Maroussi, a suburb of Athens, Dec. 6. Three of them had a chance to briefly share their stories with him. Having read their experiences beforehand, Pope Francis’ lengthy talk gave a detailed response to each of their concerns, revelations and questions with the understanding that their unique experiences also reflected something many other young people have in common.

Pope Francis said all those moments of doubt in life are “vitamins” for the faith, making it stronger, more resilient, wiser and more mature.

“Faith is precisely that: a daily journey with Jesus who takes us by the hand, accompanies us, encourages us, and, when we fall, lifts us up,” he said. Never be afraid to reflect and ask questions because “you cannot walk this path of faith blind.”

Certainly, governments have a “right” to say how many migrants they can take in, the pope said. But they do not have a right to condemn them to exploitation and even death.

“Migrants must be welcomed, accompanied, promoted and integrated,” Pope Francis said. “If a government cannot take in more than a certain number, it must enter into dialogue with other countries who can take care of the others, all of them.”

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