The Holy Father has defined the apostolic journey to Cyprus and Greece as a "pilgrimage to the sources". It is the third this year (after Iraq and Budapest/Hungary and Slovakia), and follows in the footsteps of Benedict XVI (2010) and St. John Paul II (2001) in these lands. There are five days, until Monday 6, with nine speeches, two homilies and an Angelus. These are the numbers that mark this trip of the Pope to two countries with a large Orthodox majority and with waters to the Mediterranean, another great protagonist of this trip.
On the flight to Nicosia, the Pontiff told journalists: "It is a beautiful trip, but we will touch wounds". There was no need to speculate too much, because the Holy Father, before leaving Santa Marta, had greeted some refugees accompanied by Cardinal Konrad Krajewski. They were immigrants, now residing in Italy, from Syria, Congo, Somalia and Afghanistan, and had been in Lesbos, where the Pope will travel on Sunday. Some were brought to him by Francis himself in 2016.
After the official reception at the airport of Larnaca, even before the welcoming ceremony at the Presidential Palace in Nicosia, the first meeting of the Pope in Cyprus was with the Catholic community: priests, religious, deacons, catechists, associations and ecclesial movements, in the Maronite Cathedral of Our Lady of Grace.
Orthodox, brothers in the faith
We will now summarize Pope Francis' first message concerning the Apostle Barnabas. First, it is worth remembering that the Holy Father, a few days before his departure, communicated in a video message "the joy" of visiting "these magnificent lands, blessed by history, culture and the Gospel", in the footsteps of "great missionaries", such as "the apostles Paul and Barnabas".
"Pilgrimage to the sources," Francis advanced as a key. "The first is fraternity, 'so precious' in the context of the synodal journey. "There is a 'synodal grace,' an apostolic fraternity that I desire so much and with great respect: it is the expectation of visiting the beloved Blessed Chrysostomos and Ieronymos, Heads of the local Orthodox Churches. As a brother in the faith, I will have the grace to be received by you and to meet with you in the name of the Lord of Peace".
In fact, the Pope will visit His Beatitude Chrysostomos II, Orthodox Archbishop of Cyprus, this Friday in Nicosia at the Archbishop's Palace, followed by a meeting with the Holy Synod in the Orthodox Cathedral of Nicosia, to which Pope Francis will address a speech.
Already on Saturday, in the Hellenic country, the Pontiff will also greet His Beatitude Ieronymos II, Archbishop of Athens and of all Greece, at the Orthodox Archbishopric of Greece, where a meeting will take place in the Throne Hall of the Archbishopric, and the Pope will deliver another speech.
In the footsteps of the "great apostle Barnabas".
The "small Catholic flock", a minority in Cyprus and Greece, was the first to receive an embrace from the Pope, after the greeting of Cardinal Béchara Boutros Raï, Patriarch of Antioch of the Maronites, who referred to the echo of the millenary presence of the Maronites on the island. "Migration from Lebanon took place in the 8th century, long before the arrival of the Crusaders (1192)," he recalled.
"I am happy to be among you. I wish to express my gratitude to Cardinal Béchara Boutros Raï for the words he addressed to me and to greet with affection Patriarch Pierbattista Pizzaballa," the Pope began his address.
Thank you all for your ministry and service. [...]. "I share my joy in visiting this land, walking as a pilgrim in the footsteps of the great apostle Barnabas, son of this people, disciple in love with Jesus, intrepid proclaimer of the Gospel," he added. An apostle who "passing through the nascent Christian communities, saw how the grace of God was at work and rejoiced in it, exhorting 'all to remain united to the Lord with firmness of heart'".
"I come with the same desire," the Holy Father continued. "To see the grace of God at work in your Church and in your land, rejoicing with you for the wonders that the Lord works and exhorting you to persevere always, without tiring, without ever becoming discouraged. I look at you and see the richness of your diversity".
Francis greeted the Maronite Church, "which in the course of the centuries has arrived on the island on various occasions and which, often undergoing many trials, has persevered in the faith". And "also to the Latin Church, present here for millennia, which has seen the enthusiasm of the faith grow over time, together with her children, and which today, thanks to the presence of so many migrant brothers and sisters, presents itself as a 'multicolored' people, an authentic meeting place between different ethnic groups and cultures".
"Cultivate a patient gaze"
Pope Francis then wanted to "share something with you about St. Barnabas, your brother and patron, inspired by two words from his life and mission".
He then stressed: "We need to a patient Church. A Church that does not allow itself to be disturbed and disconcerted by the changes, but serenely welcomes the newness and discerns the situations in the light of the Gospel. On this island, the work you carry out in welcoming new brothers and sisters arriving from other parts of the world is precious. Like Barnabas, you too are called to cultivate a patient and attentive gaze, to be visible and credible signs of the patience of God who never leaves anyone away from home, deprived of his tender embrace".
"The Church in Cyprus has these open arms: she welcomes, integrates and accompanies. It is an important message also for the Church throughout Europe, marked by the crisis of faith," the Holy Father said. "It is no use being impulsive and aggressive, nostalgic or complaining, it is better to move forward reading the signs of the times and also the signs of the crisis. It is necessary to begin again and to proclaim the Gospel with patience, especially to the new generations."
Fraternity of Saints Barnabas and Paul
"In the story of Barnabas, there is a second important aspect that I would like to emphasize: his meeting with Paul of Tarsus and their fraternal friendship, which will lead them to live the mission together," the Pope said, recalling that Barnabas took St. Paul with him after his conversion, presented him to the community, told what had happened to him and vouched for him. And the Pope said: "It is an attitude of friendship and sharing of life. To 'take with oneself', 'to take upon oneself' means to take charge of the other's story, to take time to get to know him without labeling him, to carry him on one's shoulders when he is tired or wounded, as the Good Samaritan does".
"This is called brotherhood, and it is the second word. Barnabas and Paul, as brothers, traveled together to proclaim the Gospel, even in the midst of persecutions" and disagreements. "But Paul and Barnabas did not separate for personal reasons, but they were arguing about their ministry, about how to carry out the mission, and they had different visions," Francis noted.
"This is the fraternity in the Church, it is possible to discuss different visions, sensibilities and ideas. And to say things to each other's face with sincerity in certain cases helps, it is an occasion for growth and change. [...] We discuss, but we remain brothers".
And here comes the Pope's second invitation in his address to the Catholic community:
"Dear brothers and sisters, we need a fraternal Church to be an instrument of fraternity for the world. Here in Cyprus there are many spiritual and ecclesial sensibilities, various histories of origin, different rites and traditions; but we should not feel diversity as a threat against identity, nor should we be suspicious and worried about the respective spaces".
Message "to all of Europe".
"With your fraternity you can remind everyone, the whole of Europe, that to build a future worthy of man it is necessary to work together, overcome divisions, tear down walls and cultivate the dream of unity," the Pope said.
"We need to welcome and integrate, to walk together, to be brothers and sisters. I thank you for what you are and what you do, for the joy with which you proclaim the Gospel, for the fatigue and renunciation with which you support it and move it forward. This is the path traced out by the holy Apostles Paul and Barnabas".
The Holy Father's final exhortation was this: "I wish you always to be a patient Church, which discerns, accompanies and integrates; and a fraternal Church, which makes room for the other, which discusses but remains united. I bless you and please continue to pray for me. Efcharistó!"
Hospitality to migrants, not hostility
The first "source" of pilgrimage of the trip cited by the Pope in the video was fraternity. The second he referred to as constituting "the ancient source of Europe": Cyprus represents "a branch of the Holy Land on the continent", while "Greece is the home of classical culture". Europe, therefore, Francis stressed, "cannot do without the Mediterranean, a sea that has seen the spread of the Gospel" and the development of great civilizations." This is how the Pope puts it:
"The mare nostrum, which connects so many lands, invites us to sail together, not to divide ourselves by going our separate ways, especially in this period in which the fight against the pandemic continues to demand great commitment and the climate crisis looms over us. The sea, which welcomes many peoples, with its open ports reminds us that the sources of coexistence are in welcoming".
And immediately came the Pope's intense appeal not to forget migrants and refugees:
"I think of those who, in recent years and still today, flee from wars and poverty, who land on the coasts of the continent and elsewhere, and find not hospitality, but hostility and are even exploited. How many have lost their lives at sea! Today, the Mare Nostrum, the Mediterranean, is a great cemetery".
Lesbos, a challenge of humanity
The third source of the papal journey, in this line, will be humanity, and it will be visualized in Mytilene - Lesbos, where the Pope will go on the morning of Sunday, December 5, to meet with the refugees. This is what he did five years ago on the same island, and this is how the Pope recalled it:
"Pilgrim at the source of humanity, I will go again to Lesbos, with the conviction that the sources of life in common will only flourish again in fraternity and integration: together. There is no other way, and with this illusion I go to you".
Mediterranean, "an opportunity to meet".
The Pope's visit to Cyprus and Greece has been the subject of analysis and commentary by Vatican authorities and various experts. Among others, Cardinals Pietro Parolin, Secretary of State of the Holy See, and Kurt Koch, President of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, or the analyst Nikos Tzoitis, stand out.
"Pope Francis will bring to Cyprus and Greece the joy of the Gospel and the light of hope, exhorting Europe and all humanity to unity and not to abandon those in need," said Cardinal Pietro Parolin, in an interview with Vatican media.
The Pope "feels like a pilgrim, a pilgrim to the origins of the Church. Let us remember that these countries were marked by apostolic itineraries of great importance, those that refer to the apostles Barnabas and Paul. It is a return to these origins, "rediscovering - he says - the joy of the Gospel", which is a theme that has run through the entire pontificate, beginning with the first document. The Pope, as always, entrusts his pilgrimage to prayer and asks for prayers from everyone".
As for the Mediterranean, which Francis mentions in his message, Cardinal Parolin emphasizes that "the Pope will bring the light and hope of Christ, and the exhortation that the Mediterranean should move from being a space that divides to being an opportunity for encounter".
"What should be the effort of all countries, of all peoples living around this basin, is to transform it from a space that divides into an opportunity for encounter. Unfortunately, today we are witnessing the opposite phenomenon: so many tensions at the geopolitical level that have the Mediterranean at their center and then the phenomenon of migration," he points out.
"We must sail together."
"The Pope says something very beautiful that takes up a bit the idea that he developed during the time of the pandemic," adds the Cardinal Secretary of State: "Specifically when he says: 'We are in one boat'... And now he says: 'We must sail together'. In my opinion, this invitation to sail together means: look, we face so many problems, we have emergencies, like those of the pandemic, from which we have not yet fully emerged, like those of climate change - we heard it in Glasgow these last few days - or we have chronic phenomena, like war, poverty, hunger... So, in the face of these great phenomena, these great problems and difficulties, we must present a united front, we must have a common, shared, multilateral approach. This is the only way to solve the problems of today's world", he assures.
With regard to Cyprus, which has seen the division of the two communities, Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot, Cardinal Parolin said that "it is a very, very delicate and worrying situation. I believe that the Pope will reiterate the position, the hope, the exhortation of the Holy See: that is, that the Cyprus problem can be resolved through a sincere and loyal dialogue between the parties involved, always taking into account the good of the whole island. It is, therefore, a confirmation of the Holy See's line, reiterating it in situThe hope is that it will have a different effect than proclaiming it from afar".