Pope Francis in Cyprus: We Encounter Jesus in the Faces of Migrants

Four migrants, from Iraq, Cameroon, Sri Lanka, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, shared their testimonies with the Pope.

Pope Francis takes part in an ecumenical prayer with migrants at the Parish Church of the Holy Cross in Nicosia, Cyprus, Dec. 3, 2021.
Pope Francis takes part in an ecumenical prayer with migrants at the Parish Church of the Holy Cross in Nicosia, Cyprus, Dec. 3, 2021. (photo: Vatican Media. / Vatican Media)

VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis spent time in prayer Friday with migrants on the island of Cyprus, which currently receives more asylum seekers per capita than any other country in the European Union. 

As the Pope met with the migrants, the Vatican announced Dec. 3 that it had helped to arrange the transfer the 12 refugees from Cyprus to Italy via an agreement between the Vatican Secretary of State with the Cypriot and Italian authorities.

Vatican Media.

Vatican Media.

The Pope was welcomed to the Church of the Holy Cross in the Cyprian capital of Nicosia by Patriarch Pierbattista Pizzaballa, the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem.

“Cyprus, first among the islands of the Mediterranean, experiences the tragedy of thousands of migrants, fleeing war and misery and who stop here, with no way out, with no clear prospects for their future,” Pizzaballa said. 

“It was right and proper, before ending your pilgrimage, to turn your gaze also to that painful and difficult reality that exists on this island, in which the dramas that the Mediterranean experiences every day are symbolically presented,” he added.

Vatican Media.

Vatican Media.

Four migrants, from Iraq, Cameroon, Sri Lanka, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, shared their testimonies with the Pope. 

In his testimony, Rozh Najeeb from Iraq said: “I am someone who is on a journey. I have had to run away from violence, bombs, knives, hunger, and pain. I have been forced along dusty roads, pushed into trucks, hidden in the trunks of cars, thrown into leaking boats — deceived, exploited, forgotten, denied. I was forced on my journey.” 

Vatican Media.

Vatican Media.

“Yet my journey has also been towards something. I journey every day, anxious to reach a new  destination. A place of safety and health, a place that affords liberties and choices, a place where I can give and receive love, a place where I can practice my faith and my customs proudly, sharing them with others, a place where I can dare to hope,” he said.

Vatican Media.

Vatican Media.

Thamara da Silva from Sri Lanka said that each time she has to fill out migration paperwork she must reduce her identity into “a check mark next to a box on a form.”

“I have to use a word or two to explain myself to one of the few who might choose to ask or to acknowledge that I am even here. What do I say? Usually, I must choose ‘xenos,’ foreigner, victim, asylum seeker, refugee, migrant, ‘other’, but what I want to scream is ‘person,’ sister, friend, believer, neighbor,” she said.

Pope Francis thanked the young people for sharing their testimonies, which he said are “like a mirror held up to us, to our Christian communities.”

Vatican Media.

Vatican Media.

“It is he, the Lord Jesus, whom we encounter in the faces of our marginalized and discarded  brothers and sisters. In the face of the migrant who is despised, rejected, put in a cage,” Pope Francis said.

“But at the same time — as you said — the face of the migrant journeying to a goal, to a hope, to greater human  companionship.”

Vatican Media.

Vatican Media.

The live-streamed ecumenical prayer with migrants was Pope Francis’ last public event in Cyprus before he heads to Greece on Saturday morning.

Over the weekend, the pope will meet Greek Orthodox Archbishop Ieronymos II in Athens and visit refugees on the Greek island of Lesbos.

At the end of his speech, Pope Francis said that he had the image of barbed wire in his heart after seeing how it divides Nicosia amid the “war of hatred that the country experiences.”

“Barbed wires in other areas are in place to not let refugees in. The one who comes to ask for freedom, bread, help, brotherhood, joy, who is fleeing from hatred, finds before him a hatred called barbed wire,” the Pope said.

“May the Lord awaken the conscience of all of us before these things. And excuse me if I have said things … but we cannot remain silent.”

Pope Francis conferred on Catholics the lay ministries of catechist and lector at a Mass for the Sunday of the Word of God on Jan. 23.

Pope Francis: The Word of God Rekindles Hope

Pope Francis celebrated Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica for the fourth-annual Sunday of the Word of God, during which he, for the first time, formally conferred upon lay Catholics the ministries of lector and catechist.