The Pope in Cyprus: “Walls of fear will not help Europe progress”

from Gian Guido Vecchi

Francis in Nicosia speaks of the “laceration” of the island, occupied in the north by Turkey: “There is a power of gestures that prepares for peace: not that of gestures of power, threats of retaliation and demonstrations of power, but that gestures of relaxation, concrete steps of dialogue “

FROM OUR ENCOUNTER TO NICOSIA (Cyprus) “It is a beautiful journey, but we will also touch plagues”, Francis told reporters on the flight that takes him to Cyprus. Walls, conflicts, “human trafficking” and the tragedy of refugees. The island of Aphrodite, with the capital divided by a barrier guarded by the UN e “The percentage of immigrants the highest percentage among EU countries”, the Pope himself recalls, is an epitome of Europe. A French journalist sends the Pope a gift from the parish of Calais, a kite made from the sheets of the migrants’ tents and dedicated “to all the people exiled and dead on the Franco-British border”, the first name is that of Aleksandra Hazhar, a little girl who was three days old and Francis murmurs “terrible, terrible …” Thus, addressing the civil authorities in the presidential palace, he says it immediately: “The European continent needs reconciliation and unity, it needs courage and momentum to move forward . Because it will not be the walls of fear and the vetoes dictated by nationalist interests that will help its progress, nor will economic recovery alone guarantee its security and stability.“. He also said this in his meeting with the religious: “With your fraternity you can remind everyone, the whole of Europe, that in order to build a future worthy of man we need to work together, overcome divisions, tear down walls and cultivate the dream of unity“.

On the way from Larnaca airport to Nicosia he was able to see, on the southern slope of the Kyrenia mountains, the giant Turkish flag of 425 meters by 250 drawn on the limestone under the Pentadaktylos peak. The Maronite Cathedral of Our Lady of Grace, in Nicosia, remained on the green line drawn by the UN in 1974 after the Turkish invasion and the ceasefire. a thin demilitarized strip that separates Cyprus in the south from the Turkish-controlled northern part, 36 percent of the island’s territory. Upon the Pope’s arrival, the church is guarded by United Nations blue helmets. In the greetings to Francis, a nun tells of the attack on the island, “a night that has lasted for 47 years”. The Pope recalls the “terrible laceration” suffered: «I think of the interior suffering of those who cannot return to their homes and places of worship. I pray for your peace, for the peace of the whole island, and I wish it with all my strength ». but yet “The way of peace, which heals conflicts and regenerates the beauty of fraternity, is marked by one word: dialogue”. The road is not easy, indeed it is “long and tortuous”, but “there are no alternatives to reach reconciliation”, Francis says: “We nourish hope with the strength of gestures rather than hoping for gestures of strength. Because there is a power of gestures that prepares for peace: not that of gestures of power, threats of retaliation and demonstrations of power, but that of gestures of relaxation, concrete steps of dialogue. I am thinking, for example, of the commitment to prepare for a sincere discussion that puts the needs of the population first, of an increasingly active involvement of the international community, of the safeguarding of religious and cultural heritage, of the restitution of what is in this sense particularly dear to the people, like the places or at least the sacred furnishings ».

In its millenary history, however, Cyprus remains the image of “an open door, a port that connects, a crossroads of civilizations”, an island “which over the centuries has not isolated the people, but has connected them”, a place ” which marks the eastern gate of Europe and the western gate of the Middle East ». Its beauty “derives from the cultures that over the centuries have met and mixed”, even if “the multicolored and multifaceted beauty of the whole is not easy, it requires time and patience, it requires a broad gaze that embraces the variety of cultures and looks to the future with far-sightedness”. Tomorrow Francis, in the church of the Holy Cross in Nicosia, will participate in an “ecumenical prayer” with the migrants, who have multiplied on the island in recent years: the African refugees have been added to the Middle Eastern refugees, today in the majority, who arrive through the Turkey. On the island there are three refugee camps and at least ten thousand people waiting. The Cypriot government has already announced in recent days that Francis will have about fifty refugees transferred to Rome from Cyprus, through the “humanitarian corridors”. President Nikos Anastasiades himself confirmed this, addressing the Pope: «We would like to express our gratitude to you as a State for the initiative to transfer 50 migrants from Cyprus to Italy. His symbolic initiative is, first of all, a strong message on the need for an indispensable revision of the EU immigration policy ”. When Francis addresses men and women religious in the Maronite church, he recalls that “there are many spiritual and ecclesial sensitivities, various stories of different origins, rites and traditions, but we must not feel diversity as a threat to identity”, and then he addresses all believers, with all due respect to identity impulses: “So is the Church too: catholic, that is, universal, an open space in which all are welcomed and reached by the mercy of God and the invitation to love. There are and there are no walls in the Catholic Church: it is a common home, it is the place of relationships, it is the coexistence of diversities “.