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In Cyprus Visit, Pope Will Find Divisions, Desperate Migrants

NICOSIA – As he said he would bring back some 50 refugees and highlight their long plight, Pope Francis will see on divided Cyprus – the northern third occupied since an unlawful 1974 Turkish invasion – how deep the divisions are there.

While refugees and migrants had favored Greece – via Turkey – as their route to the European Union before the borders were closed to them, Cyprus has become another conduit for them as a member of the bloc.
The Pope plans an ecumenical prayer with migrants at the Church of the Holy Cross on Dec. 3, said Reuters, a place where migrants each morning line up for assistance from a Catholic charity and where aid workers said the situation is dire.

“I am thinking of those who, in recent years, and still today, have been fleeing from war and poverty, landing on the shores of the continent or elsewhere, and finding not hospitality, but hostility and even exploitation,” Francis said in a video message ahead of his visit. “They are our brothers and sisters,” he said.

So far in 2021, more than 90 percent of the migrants on the Greek-Cypriot side of the island got there by sneaking across a porous 180-kilometer (116-mile) border guarded in spots by United Nations peacekeepers.

“Right now we are overwhelmed with the number of migrants, asylum seekers and refugees who are here in Cyprus,” Elizabeth V. Kassinis, Executive Manager of Caritas Cyprus, part of a global network of Catholic relief groups, told the news agency.

She said the charity, which provides aid ranging from assistance with paperwork to clothing and food parcels, has been helping up to 400 people daily compared with between 150-200 in the past.

Father Jerzy (George) Kraj, Latin Patriarchal Vicar and Attache of the Apostolic Nunciature in Nicosia, said the ecumenical prayer would take place with representatives of Christian communities in Cyprus.

“This is what unites us … We are not only preaching, but doing the charity.” he said.

Holy Cross shows the scars of the invasion, its upper walls marked with bullet holes and a UN sentry post in an abandoned building opposite it.

Briefing reporters at the Vatican, spokesman Matteo Bruni said the Pope will not shy away from mentioning the division between the sides.

“It’s a wound that has been open for some time. The Holy See undoubtedly supports every effort to strengthen bilateral talks, which are the only solution for the island and its people,” he said.

Francis will stay overnight in no-man’s-land. The Franciscan monastery adjacent to Holy Cross lies in a buffer zone running through the heart of the Medieval city, one of the few buildings along the line that aren’t rotting away.

Its rear garden, surrounded by high walls and barbed wire, backs onto the Turkish Cypriot side of Nicosia. A bust at the entrance of the monastery is dedicated to Pope John Paul II, who died in 2005, the report said.

“Build Bridges, Not Walls,” reads the plaque beneath the bust.

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