Pope Francis told Cypriot authorities on Thursday that he is praying for “the peace of the entire island.”
The pope addressed political leaders, representatives of civil society, and members of the diplomatic corps at the Presidential Palace in the capital, Nicosia, on Dec. 2, hours after he arrived on the island divided by a U.N. buffer zone.
He described the de facto partition of the island as “the greatest wound suffered by this land.”
“I pray for your peace, for the peace of the entire island, and I make it my fervent hope,” he said.
“The way of peace, which reconciles conflicts and regenerates the beauty of fraternity, has a single word as its signpost. That word is dialogue.”
Pope Francis is the second pope to visit Cyprus after Benedict XVI made a three-day trip to the Mediterranean island in 2010. He is embarking on a five-day visit that will also take him to Greece, another predominantly Orthodox Christian country.
In his live-streamed address, the pope described Cyprus, an island in the eastern Mediterranean Sea with a population of 1.2 million people, as “a country geographically small, but historically great.”
He said that the nation has served as “the eastern gate of Europe and the western gate of the Middle East,” offering “an open door, a harbor that unites.”
“Cyprus, as a crossroads of civilizations, has an innate vocation to encounter, favored by the welcoming character of the Cypriot people,” he said.
The island of Cyprus also contains Northern Cyprus, a predominantly Sunni Muslim territory located on the northeastern portion of the island.
Northern Cyprus is recognized only by neighboring Turkey, which invaded Cyprus in 1974, and is considered part of the Republic of Cyprus by all other states.
Pope Francis left Rome at 11 a.m. local time on Thursday. After touching down at Larnaca International Airport, he traveled to the divided capital city, where he addressed members of the country’s Catholic minority at the Maronite Cathedral of Our Lady of Grace in Nicosia.
He was then driven to the Presidential Palace, where he paid a courtesy visit to Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades, who later gave a speech praising the pope’s outreach to the poor and defense of the environment.
Anastasiades said that Cyprus receives an outsized share of migrants compared to other European Union member states and thanked the pope for his role in transferring 50 migrants from Cyprus to Italy.
“Your symbolic initiative is, first of all, a strong message about the need for a much-needed review of EU immigration policy, so that, on the one hand, there is a fairer division of the management of problems and, on the other, and a more humane life for those who emigrate to the member states,” he said.
Flanked by Anastasiades, the pope visited a statue of Makarios III, the first president of Cyprus, in the Presidential Palace gardens. Considered the “Father of the Nation,” Makarios was also the Orthodox archbishop of Cyprus. He survived four attempts on his life and a coup during his three presidential terms.
Pope Francis paid tribute to Makarios in his address to the country’s leaders, pointing out that his name means “blessed” in Greek, which, he said, evoked the Beatitudes presented by Jesus in his Sermon on the Mount.
The pope noted that Cyprus played an important role in early Christian history.
“Precisely from this place, where Europe and the East meet, there began the first great inculturation of the Gospel on this continent,” he said.
“I am deeply moved to be able to retrace the steps of the great missionaries of the early Church, particularly Saints Paul, Barnabas, and Mark.”
The pope compared the island, with its natural beauty and man-made treasures, to “a pearl of great price in the heart of the Mediterranean,” alluding to Jesus’ Parable of the Pearl, recounted in the Gospel of Matthew.
He said: “A pearl in fact becomes what it is because it takes shape over time. It takes years for its various layers to become compact and give it luster.”
“So too, the beauty of this land comes from the cultures which over the centuries have met and blended here. Today too, the light of Cyprus is richly variegated.”
He went on: “Many peoples and nations have contributed different shades and tints to this people. I think too of the presence of many immigrants: percentagewise, more than any other country of the European Union.”
“To preserve the multicolored and multifaceted beauty of the whole is no easy thing. As in the formation of a pearl, it takes time and patience; it demands a broad vision capable of embracing a variety of cultures and looking to the future with foresight.”
“I think in this regard of the importance of protecting and supporting all the members of society, especially those who are statistically a minority.”
The pope observed that a pearl is created when an oyster faces “an unexpected threat to its safety,” such as a grain of sand.
“To protect itself, it reacts by assimilating the thing that wounded it: it encloses the foreign body that endangers it and makes it into something beautiful: a pearl,” he said.
“The pearl of Cyprus has been darkened by the pandemic, which has prevented many visitors from visiting it and seeing its beauty; here, as in other places, this has aggravated the effects of the financial and economic crisis.”
“In this period of recovery, however, it will not be anxious efforts to recover what was lost that will ensure and consolidate growth, but the commitment to promote the recovery of society, especially through a decisive fight against corruption and everything that violates the dignity of the person; here I think, for example, of the scourge of human trafficking.”
Pope Francis urged the Cypriot authorities to make bold gestures to try to achieve reconciliation between the island’s divided peoples.
“Not gestures of power, threats of reprisal and shows of force, but gestures of détente and concrete steps towards dialogue,” he suggested.
“I think, for example, of openness to sincere discussion that would give priority to people’s needs, ever more effective involvement on the part of the international community, the need to protect the religious and cultural heritage, and the restitution of all that people hold most precious in that regard, such as places or at least sacred furnishings.”
The pope praised a peacebuilding initiative called the Religious Track of the Cyprus Peace Project, which brings together the island’s religious leaders under the auspices of the Swedish embassy.
“Times that seem least favorable, when dialogue languishes, can be the very times that prepare for peace,” he said.
“The pearl also reminds us of this, for it takes shape in the patient, hidden process of weaving new substances together with the agent that caused the wound.”
The pope urged dispirited leaders to think of younger generations that long for a “world of peace,” rather than “one marred by perennial rivalries and poisoned by unresolved disputes.”
“Cyprus, as a geographic, historical, cultural, and religious crossroads, is in a position to be a peacemaker. May it be a workshop of peace in the Mediterranean,” he said.
“Peace is not often achieved by great personalities, but by the daily determination of ordinary men and women. The European continent needs reconciliation and unity; it needs courage and enthusiasm, if it is to move forward.”
“For it will not be the walls of fear and the vetoes dictated by nationalist interests that ensure its progress, nor will economic recovery alone serve to guarantee its security and stability.”
He concluded: “May we look to the history of Cyprus to see how encounter and welcome have brought forth good fruits that endure. Not only in the history of Christianity, for which Cyprus was ‘the springboard’ on this continent, but also for the building of a society which found its richness in integration.”
“This spirit of enlargement, this ability to look beyond one’s own borders, brings rejuvenation and makes possible the rediscovery of a brilliance that was lost.”