NICOSIA: Pope Francis appealed for a “sense of fraternity” in an open-air mass in Cyprus on Friday, the second day of a visit to the divided Mediterranean island that has focused heavily on the plight of migrants.
As a gesture of solidarity to those fleeing poverty and conflict, the 84-year-old pontiff was expected to offer 50 migrants now in Cyprus a chance for a new life in Italy.
The pope delivered his open-air mass at Nicosia’s main football stadium to some 7,000 faithful, many of them workers from the Philippines and South Asia who make up a large proportion of the 25,000 Catholics in mainly Greek-Orthodox Cyprus.
“Faced with our own inner darkness and the challenges before us in the church and in society, we are called to renew our sense of fraternity,” Francis told them.
“If we remain divided, if each person thinks only of himself or herself, or his or her group, if we refuse to stick together, if we do not dialogue and walk together, we will never be completely healed of our blindness.”
Many in the crowd were waving the flags of nearby Lebanon, the Philippines and the pope’s native Argentina. A 130-member multicultural choir sang songs in Arabic, English and Greek.
“We are so lucky,” Jackylyn Fo Bulado, a 31-year-old domestic worker from the Philippines wearing a T-shirt with the pope’s image, said before the mass started.
“We are just waiting for a simple message of love and peace from the pope and that he will bless Cyprus and the world.”
The pope earlier visited the Holy Archbishopric of the Greek Orthodox Church of Cyprus in Nicosia, seeking to improve historically difficult relations between the Roman Catholic and Greek Orthodox churches.
“Where our relations are concerned, history has opened broad furrows between us, but the Holy Spirit desires that with humility and respect we once more draw close to one another,” he said in an address to Orthodox clerics, including Archbishop Chrysostomos II of Cyprus.
Elena Chentsova, an Orthodox Christian originally from Ukraine, said she woke up early to see the pope.
“I’m Orthodox and I hope he will spread a message of dialogue between the different religions, to be all the more close,” the 42-year-old told AFP.
Francis — on his 35th international trip since becoming pope in 2013 — is the second Catholic pontiff to visit Cyprus after Benedict XVI went in 2010. He travels on to Greece on Saturday morning.
Cyprus said it had deployed 500 police to secure the pontiff’s visit, with sharp-shooters deployed on rooftops and a helicopter buzzing in the sky.
Police said a 43-year-old man was arrested after a security check at the stadium when a knife was found in his possession. A police spokesperson said it was believed the knife “had nothing to do with the pope” and was for personal use.
The pope will later hold an ecumenical prayer service with migrants from dozens of nations at Nicosia’s Church of the Holy Cross, located near the UN-patrolled “Green Line” that divides the country.
Cyprus has been split since 1974 when Turkish forces invaded and occupied the island’s northern third in response to a military coup sponsored by the Greek junta in power at the time.
Only Ankara recognizes the self-proclaimed Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, and tensions simmer between the two sides.
The majority-Greek speaking south accuses the north of sending migrants across the Green Line and also says it now receives the highest number of first-time asylum seekers of any EU member country.
Francis on Thursday bemoaned “the terrible laceration” of Cyprus while also urging greater unity in Europe, instead of nationalism and “walls of fear,” as the continent faces an influx of refugees and migrants.
The island’s experience served as a reminder to Europe, he said, that “we need to work together to build a future worthy of humanity, to overcome divisions, to break down walls, to dream and work for unity.”
On Thursday evening, Francis visited President Nicos Anastasiades for talks focused on the island’s painful division.
“I think of the deep suffering of all those people unable to return to their homes and their places of worship,” said the pope, urging dialogue.
Turkish Cypriot leader Ersin Tatar accused the south of seeking to use the trip to score “political goals against Turkey and the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus.”
It was a “source of sorrow for us that Pope Francis will visit Greek Cyprus only,” he said.
“There are two peoples in Cyprus. Not only Christian Greeks but also Muslim Turks live in Cyprus. This is one of the basic realities of Cyprus.”