Final preparations are underway on the island of Cyprus, which will welcome Pope Francis tomorrow for the first time. Two days later, he will travel to Greece. The journey, scheduled to end on December 6, will see the Holy Father undertake a pilgrimage “to the origins of the Church”. The Pope will bring the light and hope of Christ, says Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Secretary of State of the Holy See, as well as the exhortation “to transform the Mediterranean from a space that divides to an opportunity for encounter”.
Your Eminence, in what spirit is the Pope preparing to depart?
He revealed it to us when he addressed the two countries he will visit in the coming days [in a video message]. It is the spirit of encounter that characterizes all of the Pope’s journeys, all his activities, I would say, starting from the audiences and the other initiatives here in Rome: his desire to meet the other. He ends his video message by saying: I can’t wait to visit you, I can’t wait to meet you. His emphasis is clearly on this spirit of encounter and pilgrimage. He feels he is a pilgrim on a pilgrimage to the origins of the Church. Let’s remember that these countries were marked by apostolic itineraries of great importance, those that refer to the apostles Barnabas and Paul. It is a return to these origins, “to rediscover”, he says, “the joy of the Gospel”, which is a theme that has run through his entire pontificate beginning with his first document. As always, the Pope entrusts his pilgrimage to prayer and asks for prayers from everyone.
The first stop will be in Cyprus. Since 1974 the island has seen the separation of the two communities, Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot. During the Angelus on August 30, 2020, the Pope expressed the Holy See’s encouragement for reunification negotiations. What meaning will Francis’ presence have in this situation?
It is a very, very delicate and worrisome situation... In April this year, negotiations took place in Switzerland that brought together the President of the Republic of Cyprus and the authorities of the northern part of Cyprus, under the auspices of the UN and in the presence of guarantor countries — Greece, Turkey, and Great Britain. Unfortunately, even this round of negotiations did not produce satisfactory, concrete results, and practically ended with a stalemate. I believe that the Pope is going to reiterate the position, the hope, the exhortation of the Holy See: that is, that Cyprus’ problem can be solved through sincere and fair dialogue between the parties involved, always taking into account the good of the whole island. It is thus a confirmation of the Holy See’s position, reiterating it on-site, with the hope that it will have a different effect than proclaiming it from afar.
The Pope will then travel to Greece, the homeland of classical culture, as he recalled in his video message ahead of this visit, in which he highlighted that Europe cannot overlook the Mediterranean, a sea that has witnessed the spread of the Gospel and the development of great civilizations.
The Mediterranean creates distances, the Mediterranean brings us closer, but the effort of all of its countries, of all the people who live around this basin, must be to transform it from a space that divides into an occasion for encounter. Unfortunately, today, we are witnessing the opposite phenomenon: at a geopolitical level there are many tensions that have the Mediterranean at their centre; and then there is the phenomenon of migration. The Pope says something very beautiful that reflects a concept he developed during the pandemic: "We are all in the same boat”. And here he says: “We must sail together”. In my opinion, this invitation to sail together means: look, we are faced with many problems, we have emergencies, such as those of the pandemic, from which we have not yet completely emerged, such as those of climate change — as we heard in Glasgow in recent days — or we have phenomena that are chronic: think of war, think of poverty, think of hunger... Here, in the face of these major phenomena, these major problems and difficulties, we must present a common front, have a common, shared, multilateral approach. This is the only way to solve the problems of today’s world.
So it is a journey that speaks to all of humanity...
I would say that, above all, the Pope wants to speak to Europe, and invite it to rediscover its roots and find its unity beyond different visions that can coexist. At the same time, he is speaking to the whole of humanity because I think that the phenomenon of migration calls into question and highlights our humanity: how we approach this reality, how we approach people. These days the Pope has insisted so much on this point, one that I believe, he will insist upon again. This is also linked to the visit to Lesvos, where he went five years ago. So it is a return to the sources; may it be a return to the sources of our humanity in its truest sense.
Your Eminence, what is your wish for this journey?
The wish that I can express is the same one that the Pope expressed: that is, that it be a journey back to the sources of the Gospel, that it be a return to the sources of fraternity. I am referring above all to the meeting with our Orthodox brothers and sisters, both the Orthodox Church of Cyprus and the Church of Greece, in the persons of the Primate of Cyprus and the Archbishop of Athens. And then, to the source of fraternity with Catholics as well. The Pope says so clearly. There are not many of them, but they are lively, they have a multi-ethnic makeup, and also in this, we see the richness of the Catholic Church. Then a return to the sources, as I said, of our humanity. I believe that these are the wishes we can formulate for this visit of the Pope to Cyprus and Greece.