‘The Spirit of Enlargement’ – Pope Francis in Cyprus and Greece

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Antonio Spadaro, SJ

 Antonio Spadaro, SJ / Church Life / Published Date:5 January 2022/Last Updated Date:18 January 2022


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At 11 a.m. on Thursday, December 2, 2021, Ita Airways flight AZ4000, carrying Pope Francis, the papal entourage and accredited journalists, took off for Larnaca International Airport where it landed at 3 p.m. local time. So began the pope’s apostolic journey to Cyprus.

The island marks the border and junction between Europe and the Middle East. Its geographical location has made it, since ancient times, a strategic place of passage for different peoples and civilizations: Hittites, Greeks, Assyrians, Phoenicians, Egyptians, Persians, Macedonians, Romans, Byzantines, and then Franks, Venetians, Ottomans and British.

Today the island is divided between the Republic of Cyprus and the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, the latter recognized only by Turkey. Nicosia, the capital of the Republic of Cyprus, is the last divided capital on the European continent.[1]

La Civilta Cattolica

A vision of Church

The first stage of the pope’s journey to Cyprus was a meeting with the Catholic community. The Cypriot Church is considered an apostolic Church. Its foundation dates back to the first two great evangelizers of the early Church: St. Paul and St. Barnabas, to whom St. Mark the Evangelist was later added. St. Paul arrived on the island in 46 A.D., accompanied by Barnabas – himself a native of Cyprus, who died a martyr in 61 A.D. – who is considered the founder of the Cypriot Church. The Cypriot Catholic Church today is made up of 38,000 faithful, mostly of the Latin rite,  4.47 percent of the population.

Francis visited the Maronite Cathedral of Our Lady of Grace in Nicosia, the seat of the Archeparchy of Cyprus, which numbers about 13,000 worshippers. First built in the 17th century, it was reconstructed around 1959 and was inaugurated on October 28, 1961. Benedict XVI  visited it on June 6, 2010, when he made his apostolic journey to the island, the first pope to do so. Francis was welcomed at the main entrance by the Maronite Patriarch, Cardinal Béchara Boutros Raï, and Archbishop Selim Jean Sfeir. After greetings, songs and testimonies, the pope gave a speech in which he outlined a vision of the Church founded on the richness of diversity. He greeted the Maronite Church, recalling Lebanon: “I am greatly concerned for the crisis it is facing.”

Then he greeted the Latin Church, “Now, thanks to the presence of many of our migrant brothers and sisters, it appears as a ‘polychrome’ people, a true point of encounter between different ethnicities and cultures.” This is in fact, for Francis, the role of Cyprus on the European continent: “a history that is an intertwining of peoples and a mosaic of encounters.” The Catholic Church is also like this, that is, she is “universal, an open space in which all are welcomed and reached by God’s mercy and invitation to love.” Hence the appeal: “Please remember, walls do not and should not exist in the Catholic Church. For the Church is a common home, a place of relationships and of coexistence in diversity.”

The pontiff then invited the Church to be “patient” and “fraternal.” Patient in the sense that it “serenely welcomes novelty and discerns situations in the light of the Gospel.” This is a clear and important message also “for the Church throughout Europe, marked by the crisis of faith: there is no need to be impulsive and aggressive, nostalgic or complaining, but it is good to move forward, reading the signs of the times and also the signs of the crisis.” “Patience,” Francis explained, means having “ears and heart for different spiritual sensitivities, different ways of expressing the faith, different cultures. The Church does not want to reduce everything to uniformity, far from it. The Church wants to integrate with patience.”

Fraternal in the sense that, within it, “we can argue about visions, perceptions, differing ideas and in certain cases, saying things frankly to each other can help, not saying them behind someone’s back, with gossip that benefits no one. Arguing can be an opportunity for growth and change. Yet let us always remember: we argue not for the sake of fighting or imposing our own ideas, but in order to express and live the vitality of the Spirit who is love and communion. We may argue, yet we remain brothers and sisters.”

Patience and fraternity characterize, therefore, a non-monolithic Church, open to welcoming differences, listening, capable of meeting cultures and integrating different sensibilities.

A ‘spirit of enlargement’ is needed

At 5 p.m. the pontiff went to the Presidential Palace of Nicosia, built in the 1930s. It is located near the center of the city and was previously the governor’s residence when Cyprus was under British rule (1878-1960). President of the Republic, Nicos Anastasiades, welcomed the pope at the entrance to the palace and accompanied him to his study, where a private meeting took place. Then they went together to the Ceremonial Hall for a meeting with the political and religious authorities, the diplomatic corps, businesspeople and representatives of civil society and culture. Here the president gave a wide-ranging speech of greeting, in which among other things he referred to the division of the country , hoping for a solution to the problem. The pope’s speech followed.

Francis spoke of Cyprus as “a country small in geography but great in history; an island that over the centuries has not isolated people, but has connected them; a land whose border is the sea; a place that marks the eastern gate of Europe and the western gate of the Middle East.”

To the authorities the pontiff spoke of Cyprus as “a pearl of great value in the heart of the Mediterranean,” whose beauty derives “from the cultures that over the centuries have met and mixed.” Preserving this beauty is not easy: it requires, as in the formation of the pearl, time and patience. The pearl, in fact, is born when the oyster “suffers,” after having undergone an unexpected visit that threatens its safety, such as that of  a grain of sand that irritates it. To protect itself, “it reacts by assimilating what has wounded it: it encloses what is dangerous and foreign to it and transforms it into something of beauty, into a pearl.”

Cyprus today can be a reference point precisely because of its nature as a pearl that weaves “new substances together with the agent that wounded it.” In fact, as a geographical, historical, cultural and religious crossroads, it can implement a movement for peace, be “a workshop of peace in the Mediterranean,” which instead is now a place of conflicts and humanitarian tragedies. The message is clear: “It will not be the walls of fear and vetoes dictated by nationalist interests that help progress, and not even economic recovery alone can guarantee security and stability.” What is needed is a “spirit of enlargement,” as the pope called it: the ability to look beyond one’s own borders.

After taking his leave, Francis went to the Nunciature, which is located in the complex of the Franciscan Church of the Holy Cross, belonging to the Custody of the Holy Land, whose friars have been working on the island since the 13th century, and includes the only Latin Catholic church in Cyprus, the parish church of Holy Cross. The building is situated in the United Nations-controlled area, located along the “green line,” between the Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot military lines.

‘Let’s not pander to the irreconcilability of differences!’

On Friday, December 3, at 8:20 a.m., the pontiff went to the residence of the Orthodox Archbishopric of Cyprus, in the center of the city, where he had a private meeting with His Beatitude Chrysostomos II, Archbishop of Nova Justiniana and All Cyprus.[2]

Francis later referred to the content of this exchange in the meeting with the Holy Synod, the highest authority of the Autocephalous Orthodox Church of Cyprus: “Your Beatitude,” he said, among other things, “I was moved today, in our dialogue, when you spoke of the Mother Church. Our Church is a mother, and a mother always gathers her children with tenderness. We have confidence in this Mother Church, who gathers all of us and who with patience, tenderness and courage leads us forward on the path of the Lord.”

After the private meeting, the pope and the archbishop went to the Orthodox Cathedral of St. John the Theologian. Here Francis met with the Holy Synod. The archbishop gave a speech, stating that “the Christian roots of Europe, and therefore also its spiritual sources, are found right here in Cyprus.” That is why the island is considered the “gateway of Christianity to the world of the Gentiles.”

In his speech the pontiff stressed the “common apostolic origin” of the two Churches. In particular, he recalled Barnabas, patron saint of Cyprus: “His name means at the same time ‘son of consolation’ and ‘son of exhortation.’ It is beautiful that both characteristics, indispensable for the proclamation of the Gospel, are found in him.” Barnabas himself exhorts us to a proclamation that “must follow the path of personal encounter, pay attention to people’s questions, to their existential needs. To be children of consolation, before saying anything, it is necessary to listen, to allow oneself to be questioned, to discover the other, to share.”

Francis then stressed the importance of the dialogue between Catholics and Orthodox,  in particular because “through the experience of your synodality you can really help us.” And he exhorted: “Let us not allow ourselves to be paralyzed by the fear of opening up and making bold gestures; let us not go along with that ‘irreconcilability of differences’ which is not reflected in the Gospel!” Confident in the possibility of acting “as if” we were united, he asked us to put aside prejudices and preconceptions in order to work together. In fact, “each one will maintain his own ways and his own style, but with time, our work together will increase harmony and will prove fruitful.”

Facing the road together

After the farewell, Francis went to the Pancyprian Gymnastic Association Stadium, the largest stadium in Cyprus. Here, on a splendid sunny day, he celebrated Mass, greeted at the beginning by the patriarch of the Latins, His Beatitude Pierbattista Pizzaballa, and at the end by Archbishop Sfeir.

We note in particular that Patriarch Pizzaballa took up the cry of pain for the division of the island into two parts ,  an open wound, lamented by both the president and the archbishop in their respective meetings. Greeting the pope, the patriarch of the Latins conveyed it in a spirit of redemption and openness to the future as follows: “Cyprus shares the wounds of Europe and the Middle East at the same time: wounds that are political, military and – it must be acknowledged not without bitterness – also religious divisions.” He went on to note that Nicosia “is the last European capital to still see a wall of division, a deep wound on the island.” Christ in himself “has broken down the wall of separation,” and so, “if our wounds and those of our divided lands sadden us, we know however that they can be transfigured, our internal walls broken down, history redeemed.”

Francis delivered the homily, speaking of the two blind men who, as Jesus passes by, cry out to him in  their misery and hope, asking for mercy. Why to Jesus? Because “in the darkness of history, He is the light that illuminates the nights of the heart and of the world, that defeats the darkness and overcomes all blindness.” And the two blind men ask for mercy together (“Have mercy on us”): “We need to put ourselves beside each other, to share our wounds, to face the road together.”

At the end of the celebration, Francis returned to the Nunciature for lunch. At 3:50 p.m. he went to the parish church of the Holy Cross, within the ancient walls of the city of Nicosia. Here the ecumenical prayer meeting with migrants took place. The pope was welcomed by His Beatitude Pizzaballa. After the greetings, the reading of Eph 2:13-22 and some short but very intense and moving testimonies, the pope gave a speech, quoting the speeches that had impressed him greatly. “This is the prophecy of the Church,” Francis said, “a community that – with all human limitations – embodies God’s dream.” In fact, “God speaks to us through your dreams,” and calls us “not to resign ourselves to divided Christian communities, but to walk in history, attracted by God’s dream, that is, a humanity without walls of separation, freed from enmity, with no more foreigners but only fellow citizens, as Paul told us in the passage I quoted. Different, certainly, and proud of our distinctive features; proud of being different, of these differences that are God’s gift. Different, proud to be so, but always reconciled, always brothers.”

“How many desperate people,” he continued, “begin the journey in very difficult, even precarious conditions, and have not been able to arrive? We can talk about this sea that has become a great cemetery.” Recalling the stories of the divisions of the last century, he said, “we complain when we see this and say, ‘but how did this happen?’ Brothers and sisters: it’s happening today on nearby shores!” And “this is the history of this developed civilization, which we call the West.” Again referring to the country’s divisions, he continued: “And then – excuse me, but I would like to say what is in my heart, at least pray for each other and do something – then, the barbed wire. I see one here: this is a war of hatred that divides a country.” After an ecumenical prayer and the final blessing, the pope returned to the Nunciature.

On Saturday morning he headed for Larnaca airport, where he was farewelled by the president of the republic, before taking off at 9.30 a.m. for Athens international airport. Here he landed around 11.10 a.m., to begin his apostolic visit to Greece.

Greece, home of democracy

Francis, welcomed by the foreign affairs minister, immediately went to the Presidential Palace, which is located in the heart of the Greek capital, near the Hellenic Parliament. Here he was welcomed by President Ekaterini Sakellaropoulou at  a private meeting. This was followed by a private meeting with Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis. Afterward the pontiff, together with the president and the prime minister, went to a meeting with political and religious authorities, together with businesspeople and representatives of civil society and culture. In her speech, the president said, among other things, that in difficult times, “with great trials for humanity, such as the migration crisis with the many refugees, poverty, climate change and the pandemic,” the contribution of religion and the Church “is not only of existential importance and is not limited to believers alone”: it is directly linked to the policy “of care and humanity” and opens the way to “peaceful coexistence and prosperity for all of us.”

The pope gave a speech marked by the sense of transcendence and the sense of democracy. He recalled that from Greece “the horizons of humanity have expanded.” The highest part of the city, the Acropolis, is “the call to broaden our horizons to what is on high: from Mount Olympus to the Acropolis to Mount Athos, Greece invites humanity of all ages to direct the journey of life toward the heights,  toward God, because we need transcendence to be truly human.”

However, in Athens, as well as looking upward, “one’s gaze is also drawn toward the other. We are reminded of this by the sea, which Athens overlooks and which guides the vocation of this land, set in the heart of the Mediterranean to be a bridge between peoples.” Here the great historians “have been passionate in telling the stories of peoples near and far,” but here also “people began to feel like citizens not only of their own country, but of the whole world. Citizens: here people became aware of what it means to be ‘a political animal’ and, as part of a community, they saw in others not subjects, but citizens, with whom they could organize the polis together. Here democracy was born. The cradle, millennia later, became a house, a great home of democratic peoples: I refer to the European Union and to the dream of peace and fraternity that it represents for so many peoples.”

Athens is important today, at a time when there is “a retreat from democracy. Democracy requires participation and involvement on the part of all, and therefore demands effort and patience. It is complex, while authoritarianism is hasty and the easy reassurances proposed by populism appear tempting.” Francis lamented a sort of rampant “democratic skepticism,” that is also “provoked by the distance of the institutions, by the fear of loss of identity, by bureaucracy.” “The participation of all, however, is a fundamental need; not only to achieve common goals, but because it responds to what we are: social beings, unrepeatable and at the same time interdependent.” The remedy “lies in good politics.” “Let us help each other,” he urged, to move from partisanship to participating; from committing ourselves to supporting only our own side to becoming actively involved for the good of all.”

The pontiff then denounced the fact that “the European Community, lacerated by nationalist selfishness, instead of being a driving force for solidarity, sometimes appears blocked and uncoordinated. If at one time ideological contrasts prevented the building of bridges between the East and the West of the continent, today the migratory question has opened gaps also between the South and the North,” and migrants “are the protagonists of a horrendous modern odyssey.”

Oil of communion, wisdom and consolation

The pontiff returned to the Nunciature for lunch in private. He then left at 3:45 p.m., bound for the center of the  Orthodox Archbishopric of Greece, which is located in a building about 200 meters from the Metropolitan Cathedral of the Annunciation of Mary. At the entrance he was greeted by His Beatitude Ieronymos II, Archbishop of Athens and All Greece, Primate of the Autocephalous Orthodox Church of Greece. Before a private meeting between them, Francis stopped briefly near the icon of Our Lady, to reverence her and offer flowers. Recall that on April 16, 2016, the archbishop had visited the Mòrias camp, on the island of Lesbos, together with Pope Francis and Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, to raise awareness of the refugee problem.

In the Throne Room of the Archbishop’s Palace, where their respective retinues gathered, the book of the Gospels was on display and, before sitting down, the archbishop and the pope both approached and kissed it. Ieronymos II gave his address, in which he said, “We welcome Your Holiness, recognizing in your person a humble and competent promoter of the Gospel message for our unity in our common faith in Christ.” He then acknowledged that the word of Christ “spreads peace from an individual condition to a social condition.” Consequently we “together will have to move mountains, walls and the intransigence of the powerful of the earth.” From here he referred to the commitment to migrants, to work against climate change, and in favor of those involved in political or religious conflicts.

This was followed by Francis’ speech, which recalled “our common roots that have spanned the centuries,” the apostolic ones. Later, unfortunately, “worldly poisons have contaminated us, the darnel of suspicion has increased the distance and we have stopped cultivating communion.” The pontiff developed a sort of theology of the olive tree,[3] the fruit of which is oil, the “liquid sun,” as it has been described. Oil l makes us as Christians think of the Holy Spirit, who gave birth to the Church. The Holy Spirit is above all the “oil of communion.” Communion among the brothers, in fact, “in the Psalms is compared to ‘precious oil poured on the head, running down the beard’.” Francis invited us to invoke “the Spirit of communion, so that He may lead us in His ways and help us to base communion not on calculations, strategies and convenience, but on the only model to look to: the Most Holy Trinity.” The Spirit is also the “oil of wisdom” that anointed Christ and wishes to inspire Christians. Docile to his gentle wisdom, we grow in the knowledge of God and we open ourselves to others.” It is also the “oil of consolation,” which heals the wounds of humanity.

At the end of the meeting, the pope went to the Cathedral of Athens, dedicated to Saint Dionysius the Areopagite , first bishop of the city.[4] It is the center of the episcopal see of the Catholic archdiocese of the Hellenic capital –  restored in 1875 by Pius IX and whose territory is divided into 13 parishes.  In 1877 it was elevated to the rank of minor basilica, and is the first and last Catholic church in Greece to have received this dignity.

Catholics in Greece number 133,000, out of a population of almost 11 million (1.2 percent). To these must be added several thousand migrant workers with temporary residence permits and asylum seekers. In 2018, the Greek Church estimated the actual number of Catholics in the country at around 400,000.

The pope was welcomed at the main entrance by Archbishop Theodoros Kontidis of Athens and the parish priest. Emeritus Archbishop of Athens, Sevastianos Rossolatos, who is president of the Bishops’ Conference of Greece, gave the opening greeting, saying among other things that the presence of migrants had  changed the face of  the Catholic community in Greece and reinvigorated it. After some testimonies, the pope gave a speech, recalling that   the land of Greece  “is a gift, a heritage of humanity on which the foundations of the West were built. We are all, in a sense, children and debtors of your country: without the poetry, literature, philosophy and art that have developed here, we could not know so many facets of human existence, nor satisfy many inner questions about life, love, pain and death.” Precisely “in the context of this rich heritage, here at the beginnings of Christianity a ‘workshop’ for the inculturation of the faith was inaugurated, managed by the wisdom of so many Fathers of the Church.” It was Paul who inaugurated the encounter between early Christianity and Greek culture. It is as if here Francis has pushed toward a continuous and ever-more current “elaboration of the faith,” and has asked to do so thanks to two fundamental attitudes: trust and welcoming.

Trust is that of the yeast that acts within the dough, and not that of external power: “We, as Church, are not required to have the spirit of conquest and victory, the magnificence of great numbers, worldly splendor. All this is dangerous. It is the temptation of triumphalism.[5] We are asked to take our cue from the mustard seed, which is small , but humbly and slowly grows.”

Welcoming is “the inner disposition necessary for evangelization: not wanting to occupy the space and life of the other, but to sow the good news in the soil of his or her existence, learning first of all to welcome and recognize the seeds that God has already placed in their hearts, before our arrival.” His is a purposeful, non-imposing style, because Paul “has a spiritual view of reality: he believes that the Holy Spirit works in people’s hearts, beyond religious labels.” At the end, the pope greeted the bishops individually. He then returned to the Nunciature, where a private meeting was held with the Jesuits working in Greece.

Lesbos: ‘Please stop this shipwreck of civilization!’

On Sunday, December 5, the pope flew from Athens airport to Mytilene airport, where he was welcomed by the president of the republic and Archbishop Josif Printezis of Naxos, Andros, Tinos and Mykonos. Lesbos, also known as Mytilene, the name of its capital, is the largest island in the north-eastern Aegean and the third largest Greek island. It is situated near the Anatolian peninsula.

From the airport the pope went to the Reception and Identification Centre. This is the area equipped to receive refugees in Mytilene. It replaces the Reception and Identification Centre in Mória, which was the largest refugee camp in Europe until September 2020, when it was destroyed by fire. It was located outside the village of Mória, near Mytilene, and it was there that Pope Francis had visited on April 16, 2016. The newly equipped area in Mytilene welcomes thousands of people. Francis entered through the east gate of the camp and went to the meeting place. After greetings and listening to some testimonies, he gave a speech, looking at the “eyes full of fear and expectation” of the migrants in front of him. Before and after the meeting Francis went through the camp, personally meeting some of the refugees.

The pope’s message was a tough appeal, reflecting awareness  of the lesson of the pandemic: “We have understood that the great questions must be faced together, because in today’s world fragmented solutions are inadequate.” But with regard to migration, “everything seems to be terribly lacking.” It is a pure illusion, he continued, to think that “it is enough to safeguard oneself, defending oneself from the weakest who knock at the door. The future will put us even more in contact with one another.” Francis asked not for “unilateral actions, but for wide-ranging policies,” not only “to plug emergencies,” but “to approach epochal changes with greatness of vision,” and this in order “not to deny the humanity that unites us.”

The pontiff had to say with sorrow: “Five years have passed since my visit here with dear Brothers Bartholomew and Ieronymos. After all this time we see that little has changed on the issue of migration,” and “in Europe there are those who persist in treating the problem as a matter that does not concern them.” On the contrary, it seems that solutions contrary to humanity are emerging: “It is sad to hear the use of common funds to build walls and barbed wire as solutions.” For “it is not by raising barriers that problems are resolved.”

Francis repeated the words pronounced by Elie Wiesel in his acceptance speech for the Nobel Peace Prize, on December 10, 1986: “When human lives are in danger, when human dignity is in jeopardy, national borders become irrelevant.” One must not “oppose in an ideological way security and solidarity, local and universal, tradition and openness,” which is done for is done for  “political propaganda.” Instead, the remote causes must be addressed. The pontiff invited, finally, his audience to look to the faces of children: “May we find the courage to feel ashamed in their presence; in their innocence, they are our future. They challenge our consciences and ask us: ‘What kind of world do you want to give us’?” Little thought is given to the future, letting “the mare nostrum (our sea) turn into a desolate mare mortuum (sea death).” He made a heartfelt appeal at the end: “Please, brothers and sisters, let us stop this shipwreck of civilization!”

Then Francis recited the Angelus. At 12:30 p.m. he flew back to Athens and had lunch in the Nunciature. He was back on the road at 4:15 p.m., going to the Megaron Concert Hall, where he celebrated Mass for the Second Sunday of Advent. The pope gave his homily, launching a message of hope: “Preaching in the desert, John assures us that the Lord comes to liberate us and to give us life again precisely in situations that seem irredeemable, with no way out. There is therefore no place that God does not want to visit. Today we cannot but feel joy in seeing him choose the desert, to reach us in our littleness that he loves and in our barrenness that he wants to quench our thirst!” To convert is “to think beyond, that is, to go beyond the habitual way of thinking, beyond our usual mental schemes.”

At the conclusion of the celebration, Archbishop Theodoros Kontidis greeted  the Holy Father. Before leaving the Megaron Concert Hall, the pope received a high honor from the mayor of Athens. Returning to the Nunciature, he met with His Beatitude Ieronymos II, who wrote in the Book of Honor: “Tonight, December 5, 2021, the Feast of St. Sabas, my entourage and I have come to thank the Pontiff and Most Holy Brother of Rome, Francis, for his visit to Greece. We greet him and wish him a good journey. May the Holy God bless us.”

To young people: everything begins with wonder

On Monday December 6, at 8.15 a.m., the pope received in the Nunciature a visit from the Speaker Konstantinos Tasoulas of the Hellenic Parliament. He then met privately with former Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras; then a group of nine young Syrian Christian refugees, currently hosted by the Armenian Catholic Ordinariate of Athens. Then he went to the Saint Dionysius School of the Ursuline Sisters. Here a meeting with young people was held. The pope was welcomed at the entrance to the school’s multipurpose hall by the head of youth ministry in Greece. After a traditional dance, testimonies were given by a young Filipino woman, a young man from the Greek island of Tinos, and a young Syrian.

Then the pontiff gave his speech, exhorting people to wonder: “It all began with a spark, with a discovery, rendered by a magnificent word: thaumàzein. It is wonder, amazement. This is how philosophy began: from wonder before the things that are, our existence, the harmony of creation, the mystery of life. But wonder is not only the beginning of philosophy, it is also the beginning of our faith.” In fact, “the heart of faith is not an idea or a moral, but a reality, a beautiful reality that does not depend on us and that leaves us open-mouthed: we are beloved children of God!”

Recalling Odysseus, Francis proposed the image of the sirens who lured sailors with their song to make their ship smash against the rocks. Even today there are sirens who want to bewitch “with seductive and insistent messages, which point to the false needs of consumerism, to the cult of physical well-being, of fun at all costs…” Odysseus succeeded in his dealings with them by lashing himself to the ship’s mast. But Francis relaunches and proposes another model: Orpheus, who “teaches us a better way: he sang a more beautiful melody than that of the sirens and so he silenced them. This is why it is important to nourish amazement, the beauty of faith!”

Alongside amazement, Francis proposed fraternity and friendship, for which it is necessary to train in a “gymnastics of the soul”: in Greece “the greatest sporting events were born, the Olympics, the marathon…. In addition to the competitive spirit, which is good for the body, there is also that which is good for the soul: training in openness, traveling long distances by oneself in order to shorten the distances to others; throwing one’s heart over obstacles; lifting one another’s burdens…” Finally, the pope spoke of hope, pointing to the open sea: “Salvation lies in the open sea, it lies in the impetus, in the search, in the pursuit of dreams, the real ones, those with open eyes, which involve fatigue, struggle, contrary winds, sudden storms.”

At 10.45 a.m. he went to Athens airport, where he was farewelled by the foreign minister. At 11:30 a.m. the flight took off for Ciampino, where it landed at 12:35 p.m.

* * *

During this 35th apostolic journey, the pope’s message resonated strongly on numerous levels. Speaking to the Church of Greece, Francis actually spoke to the universal Church, relaunching an image of the Church as patient, listening, fraternal, synodal, attentive to the challenges of the time, not triumphalist nor obsessed with numbers, open to a laboratory of inculturation, capable of “thinking beyond.” On the ecumenical level, he stressed the common roots of the Catholic and Orthodox Churches and invited them to work together. This will help to avoid the “irreconcilability of differences,” which is not reflected in the Gospel. Working together will increase concord, and we can learn from each other. In particular, on synodality the Catholic Church can be helped to learn from the Orthodox Church.

On the social and political level, Francis made clear appeals to a European Union tempted by walls and barbed wire so that it would not shipwreck humanity and would consolidate the values of democracy and participation against all backwardness and skepticism. In order to overcome the temptations of retreat and desolation, Francis used luminous images, which remain in the memory, such as those of the pearl and the olive tree, as well as that of the journey of Odysseus, of the song of Orpheus, united to a poignant appeal to wonder.


DOI: La Civiltà Cattolica, En. Ed. Vol. 6, no.1 art. 6, 0122: 10.32009/22072446.0122.6

[1].      Let us remember that in 1878, with the beginning of the end of the Ottoman Empire, Cyprus became a British protectorate, and then obtained its independence with a treaty, the Cyprus Act, of February 19, 1959, which provided for collaboration between the  Greek and Turkish communities, placing a Turkish Cypriot vice-president alongside a Greek Cypriot president, and sanctioning a mixed composition of government and parliament. From 1963, following a constitutional dispute, tensions escalated until a coup d’état by the military junta then in power in Greece on July 17, 1974. This was followed by military intervention by Turkey, which took control of the northern part of Cyprus, just over a third of the total area, creating a Turkish Cypriot federated state, which on November 15, 1983, became the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, recognized only by Turkey and governed by a presidential system. In April 2004 the UN’s plan to reunify the island in a confederation between the Greek and Turkish communities with equal political and institutional weight failed. Thus only the Republic of Cyprus entered the European Union on May 1, 2004,adopting  the euro in 2008. Then a new series of negotiations took place, but these negotiations also failed.

[2].      We recall that a relationship of fraternal cordiality was established between the Holy See and the Orthodox Church of Cyprus, which was consolidated with the signing in the Vatican of a Joint Declaration between Benedict XVI and Chrysostomos II on June 16, 2007, and on the occasion of the apostolic journey of Benedict XVI to Cyprus (June 4-6, 2010), which was followed by a second visit by Chrysostomos II to the Vatican in 2011.

[3].      Cf. J.-P. Sonnet, “Back to the Olive Tree: Toward a Mediterranean Theology,” in Civ. Catt. En., August 2021, laciviltacattolica.com/back-to-the-olive-tree-toward-a-mediterranean-theology/

[4].      The Bishops’ Conference of Greece (Holy Synod of the Catholic Hierarchy of Greece) was established in 1965 and brings together the Greek prelates of Latin and Eastern rite. The current president is Archbishop Sevastianos Rossolatos, while the general secretary is Archbishop Nikólaos Printezis  of Naxos, Andros, Tinos  and Mykonos.

[5].      Cf. D. Fares, “Against Triumphalism and Spiritual Worldliness”, in Civ. Catt. En., December 2021, laciviltacattolica.com/author/DiegoFares/