Pope Francis verged into the world of poetry on Thursday at the Presidential Palace in Nicosia where he likened Cyprus to the painful process of producing a beautiful pearl, calling for an end to “walls of fear” and urging people off all cultures to embrace one another.
The head of the Catholic Church landed in the Republic of Cyprus on Thursday on a two-day trip to the ethnically-split island, where thousands of Maronite members of the faith live and trace their ancestral roots.
Francis, who is staying at the Vatican embassy in the buffer zone, was hosted by President Nicos Anastasiades at the Presidential Palace, with the supreme pontiff saying during his speech that “we need to welcome and integrate one another and to walk together as brothers and sisters, all of us.”
The Holy Father, who had reportedly said prior to his trip that the visit would “touch some wounds,” made references to the Cyprus Problem, a thorny issue between Greek Cypriots in the south and Turkish Cypriots in the north who have been holding peace talks for decades.
Speaking to an audience, Francis told Anastasiades that dialogue was the only way to resolve a “terrible laceration” and further praised a local initiative between Christian and Muslim faith leaders to promote reconciliation.
“There is a power of gestures which prepares the way of peace, not gestures of power, threats of reprisal and shows of force, but gestures of de-escalation and solid steps toward dialogue,” the pope said.
Papa Pancho, as Francis is affectionately known, spoke against “vetoes dictated by nationalist interests” and went to describe the political division on the island as “the greatest wound suffered by this land.”
'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'
“The way of peace, which reconciles conflicts and regenerates the beauty of fraternity, has a single word as its signpost. That word is dialogue,” the pope said.
But besides the longstanding issue between north and south, Francis had also alluded to relations between the country's minority Catholic population and their majority Orthodox Christian neighbors, whose faiths went their separate way after the schism of 1054.
Francis also took a leap into the world of poetry at the Palace, where he likened Cyprus to the beauty but also painful formation process of a pearl, which "in fact becomes what it is because it takes shape over time,” the Pope continued, saying "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," he said.
“A pearl develops its beauty in situations of difficulty. It is born in obscurity, when the oyster suffers after experiencing an unexpected threat to its safety, such as a grain of sand that irritates it,” Francis said, adding that the pandemic has prevented visitors from seeing that beauty.
History of intertwined peoples, a mosaic of encounters
The pope had earlier introduced a main focus of his visit, diversity and migration debate on the island and all across Europe, when he emphasized the shared history of Cyprus’ inhabitants, saying it was a "history of intertwined peoples, a mosaic of encounters."
"The church, as Catholic, universal, is an open space in which all are welcomed and gathered together by God's mercy and invitation to love," the pope said.
Back in Rome prior to departure, Francis argued that the success of the early apostles was marked by not overwhelming "the fragile faith of the newcomers by taking a rigorous and inflexible approach, or by making excessive demands about the observance of precepts."
A patient church, the pope said, "calmly welcomes newness and discerns situations in the light of the Gospel."
Be it newcomers to Cyprus or believers from "different rites and traditions," the pope said that Christians "should not experience diversity as a threat to identity."
On Friday morning, Francis will meet the Orthodox bishops of Cyprus at the Archbishop's Palace in Nicosia's Old City, close to the UN-patrolled buffer zone dividing north and south.
A celebration of the Holy Mass has also been scheduled at the GSP sports stadium on the southern outskirts of the capital, while an Ecumenical Prayer with migrants will be held in the early evening at the Parish Church of the Holy Cross in downtown Nicosia.
Pope goes poetic in Cyprus, likening divided island to the birth of a pearl with its beauty coming from blending cultures over centuries