Nicosia, Athens — Today, Pope Francis concluded a five-day visit to Cyprus and Greece, including Lesvos island. This visit provided an opportunity to focus on the importance of solidarity, humanity and the protection and respect for human dignity.
While preparing for his visit, Pope Francis emphasized the importance of the situation in the Mediterranean for all of Europe, and our shared responsibility in protecting the lives of those forced to flee.
“I am thinking of those who, in recent years and still today, have been fleeing from war and poverty, landing on the shores of the continent and elsewhere, and encountering not hospitality but hostility and even exploitation. They are our brothers and sisters. How many have lost their lives at sea!” he said.
Upon arriving in Cyprus on 2 December, the Pope met with religious leaders, the President of the Republic as well as civil society and the authorities. On 3 December, in addressing the public at a Holy Mass at GSP Stadium in Nicosia, he prayed for migrants and refugees to receive humane and fraternal hospitality. In the afternoon, he listened to refugees and migrants during his Ecumenical Prayer at the Parish Church of the Holy Cross where he made a powerful call to the international community not to turn their back on those forced to flee:
“Barbed wires are put in place so as not to let the refugee enter, the one who comes to ask for freedom, bread, help, brotherhood, joy, who is fleeing from hatred and is faced with a hatred that is called barbed wire. May the Lord awaken the conscience of all of us in the face of these things,” he concluded.
As part of his visit, Pope Francis announced that he would be supporting 50 asylum-seekers and migrants, to relocate from Cyprus and to travel to Italy.
“Cyprus is faced with increasing numbers of asylum-seekers, and in need of solidarity. The powerful message of Pope Francis combined with his gesture to provide protection for a number of asylum-seekers among the most vulnerable show his remarkable leadership and sets an example to follow when it comes to refugee protection in Europe,” said Katja Saha, UNHCR Representative in Cyprus.
On Saturday 4 Dec, Pope Francis departed Cyprus and was welcomed in Athens, where he met with the President of the Republic, the Prime Minister, as well as religious leaders.
On Sunday morning, Pope Francis returned to Lesvos island where he last visited five years ago at the height of the humanitarian emergency. While the situation has drastically changed since then and the number of refugees on Lesvos has significantly declined, conditions still require improvement.
“The Mediterranean, which for millennia has brought different peoples and distant lands together, is now becoming a grim cemetery without tombstones…Let us eradicate the prevailing mentality revolving around our ego and personal and national egoisms which determine every decision we take,” he said at the Mavrovouni Reception and Identification Centre (RIC) on Lesvos.
He spoke with refugees and asylum seekers residing in Mavrovouni RIC, which is currently hosting over 2,000 asylum seekers, before departing for Athens where he held a public mass at the Megaron Concert Hall in the evening with some 2,500 attendees.
“Pope Francis has always been a strong advocate for the rights of refugees and migrants. This week he has shared a strong and resounding message -we can no longer look the other way as people perish at our doorstep. We have a responsibility and a moral duty to protect human life and dignity, in a spirit of solidarity and responsibility sharing” said Maria Clara Martin, UNHCR Representative in Greece.
Pope Francis departed Athens this morning, 6 December, returning to the Vatican.