Pope Francis returns to Lesbos five years later | International

The world is huge and the pontificates short, especially if you look at the ancient history of the Catholic Church. So repeating destinations, especially when they are not great geostrategic poles, is not usual on the international agenda of the pontiffs. Francisco, however, has decided to do it again – the first time was in Cuba – and underline one of the objectives of his pontificate by returning to the island of Lesbos, from where he returned in 2016 with 12 refugees on the plane. With that lighthouse begins this Thursday a trip to Cyprus and Greece, the third international of the year and the 55th of the pontificate. “On Lesbos I will approach a humanity wounded in the flesh of so many migrants in search of hope. I ask you, please, to accompany me in prayer, ”he announced during the general audience.

Francisco returns to Lesbos, five years after his historic visit. The moment was very different then. In the middle of the migratory emergency, more than 10,000 people lived in terrible conditions in the Moria camp. The pontiff will now visit the new Mavrovouni camp, where about 2,500 migrants reside in better conditions than then, but still plagued by the restrictions of the pandemic. Lesbos, become one of the great symbols of his pontificate, will once again serve to launch an appeal to Europe in favor of reception, just at the moment when the flows have increased again.

Francisco during his trip to Lesbos in 2016
Francisco during his trip to Lesbos in 2016Reuters

The trip, however, starts on Thursday in Cyprus. The religious majority on an island that serves as the last European frontier is Greek Orthodox. Catholics in this country do not reach 1% of the population and the Maronites barely touch 8,000. A community that hopes this trip will help preserve its culture. But the visit will also have political overtones with a strong Turkish accent. “The reunification of Cyprus has long been an open wound, it will not be ignored,” said Holy See spokesman Matteo Bruni, recalling that the Vatican “supports all efforts to strengthen bilateral talks, which are the only solution. for the island and its inhabitants ”.

Francis, presumably, will encourage dialogue and will refer to the so-called “last wall of Europe”, the one that divided Cyprus and its capital Nicosia after the 1974 invasion of Turkey, which occupied a third of the island and which in 1983 he proclaimed as the Turkish Republic Northern Cyprus (RTNC), although only Ankara recognizes it as legitimate. The allusions to the neighboring country, distant in so many issues from the current Pontiff’s vision of the world, will also be examined with a magnifying glass in the speeches that he will make during the two days that he will be on the island. The following day, Friday December 3, Francis will begin one of the objectives of this trip: to relaunch the dialogue with the Orthodox Church. To do this, he will meet with Khrisostom II, Orthodox Archbishop of Cyprus, in the archiepiscopal palace and then will follow a meeting with the Holy Synod in the Orthodox cathedral of Nicosia, to which the pope will address a speech.

The landing in Athens, where he will spend a full day, and the meeting with the ecclesial and political authorities will be somewhat overshadowed by the expectation raised by the visit to the refugee camp. The Vatican did not confirm or deny that the Pope can put a group of refugees back on his plane, as he did in 2016 (on that occasion he was accompanied by the ecumenical patriarch Bartholomew I and by the Orthodox Archbishop of Athens and all of Greece , Ieronymos). “Options of this type were being studied, but the complexity of the legislation does not allow for definitive answers. Instead, these things are usually said later, “said the spokesman. In any case, he explained, it would not be “a humanitarian corridor, but a relocation, possibly a movement of refugees from one country to another in Europe.”

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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