Meeting Cypriot leaders, pope urges dialogue for peace, care for migrants

NICOSIA, Cyprus (CNS) -- Sympathizing with the Cypriot government and citizens feeling overwhelmed by an influx of migrants and refugees, Pope Francis urged them to remember their history as a crossroads and meeting place of people of different cultures and traditions.

After a private meeting with Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades Dec. 2, the pope told government officials and civic leaders that he saw his trip as a visit to "an island that, down through the centuries, has not isolated peoples but brought them together; to a land whose borders are the sea."

"You are an open door, a harbor that unites," he said.

Since late 2018, Cyprus has received more asylum-seekers per capita than any country in the European Union, in addition to hundreds of foreign workers. Especially with economic difficulties and a drop in tourism because of the COVID-19 pandemic, many people on the island are struggling.

Arriving at the presidential palace, Pope Francis paid homage to the late Archbishop Makarios III, the head of the Orthodox Church of Cyprus, who became the nation's first president in 1960 and is still honored as the "father of the nation."

"Makarios" in Greek means "blessed," and the pope invoked the archbishop's name to speak about the Eight Beatitudes as "the compass that, in every latitude, indicates the routes that Christians must take in the voyage of life."