Pope Francis confirmed reports on Wednesday that he will visit Greece and Cyprus in November as part of a tour taking in Malta and Slovenia.
“Slovakia is on the program, then Cyprus, Greece and Malta,” the pontiff told Spain’s Cope radio, confirming reports of his visit earlier this summer.
The dates of the Pope’s Apostolic Journey “will be announced once it has been confirmed,” according to the Times of Malta, which quoted a spokesperson for the Vatican, who also indicated that the visit may take place in the second half of November.
As reported by Greek Reporter, the Pope had already accepted the invitation of President Katerina Sakellaropoulou to visit Greece. Sakellaropoulou issued the invitation in a telephone conversation with the Pope about one year ago.
She had called Francis to discuss Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s move to turn Hagia Sophia into a mosque, but she also invited him to visit Greece in 2021 in order to honor the bicentennial of the start of the Greek Revolution.
Pope Francis expressed his desire to visit Greece and the hope that the pandemic would not interfere in the planning of the trip.
Pope Francis’ last visit to Greece in 2016
Francis last visited Greece in April 2016, when he made a day trip to the island of Lesvos, at the epicenter of the refugee crisis, a trip that ended with the pontiff bringing 12 Syrian refugees back with him to Rome aboard the papal plane.
Francis’ 2016 visit to Moria refugee camp, although brief, was one of the most memorable foreign trips so far of his seven-year papacy.
He toured the camp with the spiritual leader of the world’s Orthodox Christians, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I, and the head of the Church of Greece. He met with would-be asylum-seekers who wept at his feet.
The Pope said that he, Patriarch Bartholomew and Archbishop Ieronymos were able to meet individually with more than 300 refugees from Afghanistan, Syria, North Africa and other parts of the world during that trip.
“So many of them were children!” the Pope remarked at the time, noting how some of the children had witnessed the deaths of parents or companions.
“I saw so much sorrow!” he continued, and recounted the case of a young Muslim man with two young children, whose Christian fiancée had been killed by terrorists who cut her throat because she would not deny Christ and renounce her faith.
“She is a martyr!” the Pope declared, noting that the young widower had sobbed profusely.
The church leaders issued a joint statement urging the world to respond to the migration crisis with urgent, practical resources. Francis recalled in 2020 that the memories of that visit were still alive, as well as the appeal “for a human and dignified welcome to men and women migrants, to refugees and those who seek asylum in Europe.
“The tragedy of forced migration and displacement affects millions, and is fundamentally a crisis of humanity, calling for a response of solidarity, compassion, generosity and an immediate practical commitment of resources,” the trio’s appeal said.
In 2017, Francis donated 50,000 euros to address the needs of the earthquake victims of the Greek island of Lesvos.