Pope Francis shines spotlight on migrant crisis during visits to Greece and Cyprus


Over the last five days, Pope Francis has visited Cyprus and Greece where he attempted to shine a spotlight on the current migrant crisis experienced by both countries.

Here’s your rundown of everything the pontiff has been up to on his tour.


Pope Francis arrived in Cyprus on Thursday armed with a message of compassion for the thousands of people who have sought sanctuary on the east Mediterranean island, and a promise that by the end of the year 50 refugees will have been relocated to Italy.

“They are our brothers and sisters,” he said in a video message before the visit.

Pope Francis arrives at the airport in Larnaca, Cyprus. Photo: AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino.

Pope Francis stayed in the Vatican nunciature, or embassy, which is located in the U.N.-controlled buffer zone that divides Cyprus.

But he did hold a meeting with Cypriot President, Nicos Anastasiades at the presidential palace. During the meeting, the Pope urged Greek Cypriots and the breakaway Turkish Cypriots to resume talks on reunifying the Mediterranean island nation.

“Let us nurture hope by the power of gestures, rather than by gestures of power,” Francis told Anastasiades and other government leaders.

Acknowledging the stall in talks and the continuing suffering of Christians unable to return to their homes in the majority Muslim north, Francis encouraged an initiative of the island’s Christian and Muslim faith leaders to promote reconciliation.

In a speech in response to the Pope, Mr Anastasiades denounced “Turkey’s continued intransigence,” its “unprecedented belligerence” and “bellicose rhetoric.” He vowed to nevertheless work to find a just settlement and reunification of all Cyprus’ communities.


The next stop for Pope Francis during his five-day tour was Greece. He was received at the Presidential Mansion on Saturday and was greeted by President Katerina Sakellaropoulou.

The President welcomed Pope Francis in Athens, extolling his work and his “deep social sensitivity.” She also thanked him for expressing his support on the change of status of Hagia Sophia from a museum into a mosque by the Turkish government.

Pope Francis with Greece’s President.

In his address, the Pope warned warned about a “retreating of democracy” in Europe.

“Democracy was born here. Today, there is a retreating of democracy, not only in the Old Continent. Everyone’s participation is fundamental not only to achieving goals but because it reveals who we are,” the Pontiff said.

“Without Athens and without Greece, Europe and the world would not be what they are today.”

Following this welcoming ceremony, the Pontiff met with Prime Minister, Kyriakos Mitsotakis.

During the meeting between Mitsotakis and Pope Francis, the two officials discussed issues of “mutual interest,” government sources said, without elaborating further. Mitsotakis thanked the Pontiff for his visit in a year of “high symbolic significance” as it is the bicentenary of the Greek Revolution.

Later, the Pope met with the leader of Greece’s Orthodox Church, Archbishop Ieronymos. Pope Francis was heckled by an elderly Greek Orthodox priest as he arrived for the meeting.

“Pope, you are a heretic!” the priest shouted three times as Francis arrived at the residence of Archbishop Ieronymos in the Greek capital of Athens.

The protester fell to the ground as police led him away, and Francis appeared not to notice as he walked into the residence for his private meeting with the Orthodox leader.

Police hold a protesting Orthodox Priest during the visit of Pope Francis at the Archbishopric of Greece in Athens, Saturday, Dec. 4, 2021. Photo: AP Photo/Michael Varaklas.

The incident followed small protests against the pope on his previous stop, the island of Cyprus, which is also predominantly Christian Orthodox.


Pope Francis returned on Sunday to the Greek island of Lesvos to offer comfort to migrants at a refugee camp and blast what he said was Europe’s indifference and self-interest “that condemns to death those on the fringes.”

“Please, let us stop this shipwreck of civilisation!” Pope Francis said at the Mavrovouni camp.

“Let us stop ignoring reality, stop constantly shifting responsibility, stop passing off the issue of migration to others, as if it mattered to no one and was only a pointless burden to be shouldered by somebody else!”

A maskless Pope took his time walking through the camp on Sunday, patting children and babies on the head and posing for selfies. He gave a “thumbs up” after he was serenaded by African women singing a song of welcome.

Pope Francis spoke at a refugee camp on the island of Lesvos. Photo: AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino.

It was his second trip to Lesvos in five years. He lamented that little had changed since 2016, when Lesvos was at the heart of a massive wave of migration to Europe and when Francis brought 12 Syrian Muslim refugees from the island back home with him aboard the papal plane.

That concrete gesture of solidarity had raised hopes among current residents of the Lesvos camp. But there were no papal airlifts on Sunday and Francis returns to the Vatican on Monday.




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