At the same time, the Pope strengthened ties with Greek Christians - in countries that are increasingly welcoming more and more Catholic citizens - and encouraged the participation of all of us to meet the challenges facing Europe.
Patience, fraternity and welcome
In his meeting with the Catholic faithful of Cyprus (Maronite Cathedral of Our Lady of Grace, December 2, 2011), Francis expressed his joy at visiting the island, following in the footsteps of the Apostle Barnabas, son of this people. He praised the work of the Maronite Church - of Lebanese origin - and stressed mercy as a characteristic of the Christian vocation, as well as unity in the diversity of rites.
Taking his cue from the story of Barnabas, he pointed out two characteristics that the Christian community should have: patience and fraternity.
Just as the Church in Cyprus has its arms open (welcomes, integrates and accompanies), Francis noted, this is "an important message" also for the Church in the whole of Europe, marked by the crisis of faith. "It is not good to be impulsive, it is not good to be aggressive, nostalgic or complaining, it is better to go ahead reading the signs of the times and also the signs of the crisis. It is necessary to begin again and proclaim the Gospel with patience, to take the Beatitudes in hand, especially to announce them to the new generations.".
Referring to the father of the prodigal son, always ready to forgive, the Pope added: "This is what we wish to do with God's grace in the synodal itinerary: patient prayer, patient listening of a Church docile to God and open to man." A reference also to following the example of the Orthodox tradition, as also emerged in the meeting with the Orthodox Archbishop of Athens, Hieronymus II.
And on fraternity, in an environment where there is a great diversity of sensitivities, rites and traditions, he insisted: "We should not feel diversity as a threat against identity, nor should we be wary and worried about the respective spaces. If we fall into this temptation, fear grows, fear generates distrust, distrust leads to suspicion and, sooner or later, leads to war.".
Therefore, it is necessary, together with "a Church that is patient, discerning, never frightened, that accompanies and integrates."also "a fraternal Church, which makes room for the other, which discusses, but remains united and grows in the discussion.".
The same ideas of patience and acceptance were also underlined the same day with the civil authorities. He evoked the image of the pearl that the oyster makes, when, with patience and in the dark, it weaves new substances together with the agent that has wounded it.on the return flight he would speak of forgiveness - in addition to praying and working together, and of the task of theologians - as ways to advance ecumenism.
A comforting and concrete, generous and joyful announcement
The following day Francis held a meeting with the Orthodox bishops (cf. Meeting with the Holy Synod in their cathedral in Nicosia, December 3, 2011), which offered a contribution of light and encouragement for ecumenism. Following the name of Barnabas, which means "son of consolation" or "son of exhortation", the Pope pointed out that the proclamation of the faith cannot be generic, but must really reach people, their experiences and concerns, and for this it is necessary to listen and know their needs, as is common in the synodality that the Orthodox Churches live.
On the same day (3-XII-2021) he celebrated Mass at the GSP stadium in Nicosia. In his homily, the Pope exhorted the faithful to encounter, seek and follow Jesus. In order to make possible the "carrying wounds together" like the two blind men in the Gospel (cf. Mt 9:27).
Instead of shutting ourselves up in darkness and melancholy, in the blindness of our hearts because of sin, we must cry out to Jesus who passes through our lives. And we must do so, in fact, by sharing our wounds and facing the journey together, coming out of individualism and self-sufficiency, as true brothers and sisters, children of the one heavenly Father. "Healing comes when we carry wounds together, when we face problems together, when we listen and talk to each other. And this is the grace of living in community, of understanding the value of being together, of being community.". In this way we too will be able to proclaim the Gospel with joy (cf. Mt 9:30-31). "the joy of the Gospel frees us from the risk of an intimate, distant and complaining faith, and introduces us to the dynamism of witness"..
Francis still had time that day for an ecumenical prayer with the migrants (in the parish of the Holy Cross, Nicosia, December 3, 2011), telling them with St. Paul: "You are no longer strangers and aliens, but fellow citizens with the saints and family of God." (Eph 2:19). Responding to the concerns that had been brought to him, he encouraged them to preserve and cultivate their roots. At the same time, they should confidently open themselves to God in order to overcome the temptations of hatred - their own or a group's interests or prejudices - with the strength of Christian fraternity. In this way, it is possible to make dreams come true, to be the leaven of a society where human dignity is respected and where people walk, free and together, towards God.
Involving everyone in Europe's challenges
On Saturday, December 4, Francis arrived in Athens, capital of Greece, cradle of democracy and memory of Europe. At the presidential palace, he openly acknowledged: "Without Athens and without Greece, Europe and the world would not be what they are: they would be less wise and less happy." "This way." -he added-"have passed the Gospel roads that have linked East and West, the Holy Places and Europe, Jerusalem and Rome.". "Those Gospels which, in order to bring to the world the good news of God the lover of mankind, were written in Greek, the immortal language used by the Word -the Logos- to express itself, the language of human wisdom turned into the voice of divine Wisdom".In his meeting with the Orthodox Archbishop of Athens (4-XII-2021), Hieronymus II, the Pope evoked the great contribution of Greek culture to Christianity at the time of the Fathers and the first ecumenical councils.
Christianity owes much to the Greeks, as well as democracy, which has given rise to the European Union. However," the Pope noted with concern at the presidential palace, "in our days we are facing a regression of democracy, not only on the European continent.
He invited to overcome the "democratic skepticism"The result, among other factors, of authoritarianism and populism, consumerism, fatigue and ideological colonization. He insisted on the need for the participation of all, not only to achieve common objectives, but also because it responds to who we are: "social beings, unrepeatable and at the same time interdependent"..
Quoting De Gasperi - one of the builders of Europe - he called for the pursuit of social justice on various fronts (climate change, pandemics, common market, extreme poverty), in the midst of what seems a turbulent sea and "a long and unfeasible odyssey".in clear reference to Homer's story.
He evoked the Iliadwhen Achilles says: "He is as hateful to me as the gates of Hades who thinks one thing and manifests another." (IliadIX, 312-313). He continued in the key of Greek culture and, under the symbol of solidarity of the olive tree, exhorted to take care of migrants and refugees in Europe.
With reference to the sick, the unborn and the elderly, Francis took the words of Hippocrates' oath, in which he commits himself to "regulate the tenor of life for the good of the sick", "abstain from all harm and offense". to others, and to safeguard life at all times, particularly in the womb. He pointed out, in a clear allusion to euthanasia, that the elderly are the sign of the wisdom of a people: "Indeed, life is a right; death is not; it is welcomed, not supplied.".
Also under the symbol of the olive tree, he expressed his gratitude for the public recognition of the Catholic community and called for a strengthening of fraternal ties among Christians.
Encounter between Christianity and Greek culture
In order to strengthen the bonds between Christianity and Greek culture, and in the light of St. Paul's preaching in the Areopagus of Athens (cf. Acts 17:16-34), the Pope pointed out some fundamental attitudes that should shine forth in the Catholic faithful: trust, humility and welcome (cf. Meeting with bishops, priests, men and women religious, seminarians and catechists, Cathedral of St. Dionysius, Athens, December 4, 2011).
Far from becoming discouraged and lamenting fatigue or difficulties, we must imitate the faith and courage of St. Paul. "The Apostle Paul, whose name refers to littleness, lived in confidence because he took to heart these words of the Gospel, to the point of teaching them to the brethren in Corinth (cf. 1 Cor 1:25,27).
The apostle did not say to them, 'you are getting everything wrong' or 'now I am teaching you the truth,' but began by embracing their religious spirit." (cf. Acts 17:22-23). Because he knew that God works in the heart of man, Paul "He welcomed the desire for God hidden in the hearts of these people and kindly wanted to transmit to them the wonder of faith. His style was not imposing, but propositional.".
On this point, Francis recalled that Benedict XVI advised paying attention to agnostics or atheists, especially since. "When we speak of a new evangelization, these people are perhaps frightened. They do not want to see themselves as an object of mission, nor do they want to give up their freedom of thought and will." (Address to the Roman Curia, December 21, 2009).
Hence the importance of welcome and hospitality from an open heart to being able to dream and work together, Catholics and Orthodox, other believers, also agnostic brothers and sisters, all of us, in order to cultivate the "mystique" of the fraternity (cf. Evangelii gaudium, 87).
On Sunday, December 5, the Pope visited the refugees in the reception and identification center of Mytilene. He asked the international community and everyone to overcome individualistic selfishness and to stop building walls and barriers. He quoted the words of Elie Wiesel, who survived the Nazi concentration camps: "When human lives are in danger, when human dignity is at stake, national boundaries become irrelevant." (Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech, December 10, 1986).
With an expression that has become famous, the Pope added, referring to the Mediterranean Sea:"Let us not allow the mare nostrum to become a desolate mare mortuum, nor let this meeting place become a scene of conflict! Let us not allow this 'sea of memories' to become the 'sea of oblivion'. Brothers and sisters, I implore you: let us stop this shipwreck of civilization!"
Conversion, hope, courage
In the homily of that Sunday (cf. Megaron Concert Hall(Athens, 5-XII-2021), Francis took his cue from the preaching of St. John the Baptist in the desert to appeal to conversion, a radical attitude that God asks of all of us: "To become is to think beyond, that is, to go beyond the usual way of thinking, beyond the mental schemes to which we are accustomed. I think of the schemes that reduce everything to our self, to our claim to self-sufficiency. Or in those schemes closed by the rigidity and fear that paralyze, by the temptation of 'it has always been done this way, why change? To convert, then, means not to listen to those who corrode hope, to those who repeat that nothing will ever change in life - the usual pessimists; it is to refuse to believe that we are destined to sink in the quicksand of mediocrity; it is not to surrender to the inner ghosts that appear especially in moments of trial to discourage us and tell us that we cannot, that everything is wrong and that being saints is not for us".
For this reason, he added, together with charity and faith, it is necessary to ask for the grace of hope. "For hope revives faith and rekindles charity.". This message was also present, in a different language, on the last day of his meeting with the young Athenians.
In a speech full of allusions to Greek culture (the oracle of Delphi, the journey of Ulysses, the song of Orpheus, the adventure of Telemachus), Francis spoke to them of beauty and wonder, service and fraternity, courage and sportsmanship (cf. Meeting with young people at St. Dionysius School, Athens, December 6, 2011).
Amazement," he explained, "is both the beginning of philosophy and a good attitude to open oneself to faith. Amazement before the love of God and his forgiveness (God always forgives). The adventure of serving with real and not only virtual encounters. In this way we discover and live as "beloved children of God" and discover Christ who comes to meet us in others.
When he said goodbye to them, he proposed "the courage to go forward, the courage to risk, the courage not to stay on the couch. The courage to risk, to go out to meet others, never in isolation, always with others. And with this courage, each of you will find yourselves, you will find others and you will find the meaning of life. I wish you this, with the help of God, who loves you all. God loves you, be courageous, go forward!! Brostà, óli masí! [Forward, all together!".