Pope Francis begins a five-day journey to the predominantly Orthodox nations of Cyprus and Greece on Thursday in what is described by the Vatican as an “Apostolic visit.”
The Vatican says that Francis will visit “as a pilgrim” and that he “will follow in the footsteps of the first great missionaries, especially the Apostles Paul and Barnabas.”
His first stop is Cyprus, where Francis is expected to land at Larnaca Airport at 3 pm (local time) on Thursday. He is expected to raise the migration question — and Cyprus’ nearly half-century division.
Cyprus has seen such a spike in migrant arrivals this year — a 38% increase in the first 10 months compared to all of last year — that it has formally asked the European Commission to allow it stop processing asylum claims altogether.
Pope’s itinerary on Cyprus
Pope Francis will visit the Maronite Cathedral of Our Lady of Grace in Nicosia at 4 pm on Thursday, before moving to the Presidential Palace, where he will meet President Nicos Anastasiades at 5:30 pm, who will brief him on the latest developments regarding the Cyprus problem, as well as the ongoing migrant crisis on the island.
On Friday, the Pontiff will first visit the Holy Archbishopric of Cyprus at 8:30 am. From there he will make his way to the Apostle Barnabas Cathedral.
After the Holy Mass at GSP Stadium, Pope Francis will hold an ecumenical prayer with migrants and asylum seekers at the Catholic Church of the Holy Cross near the Paphos Gate at 4 pm.
In a video message released ahead of his trip to Greece and Cyprus, Francis expressed his joy in visiting the countries “as a pilgrim to your magnificent lands blessed by history, culture, and the Gospel.”
Pope Francis calls for fraternity for migrants
The Pope pointed out that the sea embraces many peoples and lands called to live together in peace and mutual acceptance. He thanked those helping prepare the journey for their warmth reflective of this calling.
At the same time, his thoughts turned to those fleeing from war and poverty, landing on the shores of these lands, and the hostility or exploitation they have endured in their migrations.
He emphasized that they are “our brothers and sisters,” noting that so many have lost their lives at sea that the Mediterranean has become a “great cemetery”.
Greece next stop for Pope after Cyprus
On Saturday Francis will arrive in Greece. It will be his second visit to the country.
In 2016 he visited the infamous Moria refugee camp on the island of Lesvos and prayed with Patriarch Bartholomew, the spiritual head of the world’s 250 million Orthodox Christians, as well as Ieronymos, the Archbishop of the Greek Orthodox Church.
In fact, he ended up taking twelve Syrian refugees back with him to Rome, where they lived after being granted asylum.
As Greek Reporter reported at the time, unaccompanied women with children in their arms were extending their hands in an effort to shake hands with the three religious leaders. One refugee approached the Pope with tears and bowed in front of him and asked for his blessing. In an intimate moment, both the Pope and the Ecumenical Patriarch each took a baby in their arms.