Pope Francis has urged unity as Europe faces an influx of refugees and migrants, speaking on the divided Mediterranean island of Cyprus, a major destination for people fleeing war and poverty.
“We need to welcome and integrate one another and to walk together as brothers and sisters, all of us,” said the Pontiff, 84, at the start of a five-day trip that takes him to Greece from tomorrow.
The Pope was set to underscore his message by taking 50 migrants now in Cyprus to Italy, Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades said, although the Vatican has yet to confirm the initiative.
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.
Speaking in a Maronite church in Nicosia, the Pope said “the presence of many of our migrant brothers and sisters” had made Cyprus “a true point of encounter between different ethnicities and cultures”.
The island’s experience served as a reminder to Europe 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”, he said.
Later, in a meeting with Anastasiades, he cautioned against nationalist “walls of fear” in Europe and stressed the continent “needs reconciliation and unity”.
Cyprus, a country of 1mn people, is home to about 25,000 Catholics, including Maronites whose ancestors arrived from Syria and Lebanon and overseas workers from the Philippines, South Asia, and African countries.
“We’re such a small minority so it’s great to feel that you belong to a greater family, the Catholic family,” said Eliana Maltezou, 38, holding her one-year-old son and waving a Cypriot flag.
Cyprus has been divided since 1974 when Turkish forces invaded and occupied its northern third in response to a coup sponsored by the Greek junta in power at the time.
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