Vatican City, Nov 27, 2021 / 08:20 am (CNA).
Pope Francis released a video message on Saturday about bringing the joy of the Gospel to Greece and Cyprus, where he will travel Dec. 2-6.
“I am preparing to come as a pilgrim to your magnificent lands, blessed by history, culture and the Gospel,” the pope said in the message published Nov. 27.
“I come with joy, precisely in the name of the Gospel, in the footsteps of the first great missionaries, especially the Apostles Paul and Barnabas,” he added. “It is good to return to the origins and it is important for the Church to rediscover the joy of the Gospel.”
Pope Francis asked for prayers as he prepares for the five-day journey to the cities of Nicosia, the capital of Cyprus; and Athens, the Greek capital; as well as the Greek island of Lesbos.
He will first travel to Cyprus, where on Dec. 2 he will meet Catholic clergy and lay people at the Maronite Cathedral of Our Lady of Grace. He will also visit the president and other political authorities.
On Dec. 3, the pope will visit His Beatitude Chrysostomos II, the Orthodox archbishop of Cyprus, and meet the Orthodox Holy Synod of bishops. The same day, he will celebrate Mass and hold an ecumenical prayer service with migrants.
In Athens on Dec. 4, Francis will meet Greece’s political leaders, Catholic clergy, a group of Jesuits, and another Orthodox leader: His Beatitude Ieronymos II, archbishop of Athens and All Greece.
Before offering Mass in Athens on Dec. 5, the pope will fly to the island of Lesbos, where he will visit refugees at a reception and identification center in Mytilene.
His trip will conclude with a gathering of young Catholics, before flying back to Rome on Dec. 6.
It will be Pope Francis’ second visit to Lesbos, also known as Lesvos, home to the infamous Moria refugee camp that was damaged in a fire last year.
In his message ahead of the trip, the pope reflected on the Mediterranean Sea, which has both welcomed many people at its ports, but also become the unintentional cemetery of the many migrants and refugees who died while trying to reach a new life in Europe.
“As a pilgrim to the wellsprings of humanity, I will go to Lesvos again, convinced that the sources of common life will only flourish again in fraternity and integration: together. There is no other way and with this vision I go to you,” he stated.
Francis said he is looking forward to meeting all the people of Cyprus and Greece, not only Catholics, and highlighted his meetings with the two Orthodox leaders as fostering “an apostolic fraternity that I desire a lot.”
“As a brother in the faith, I will have the grace to be received by you and to meet you in the name of the Lord of Peace,” he said.
Both Cyprus and Greece have populations that are majority Greek Orthodox. Around 72% of people in Cyprus are Christians and 25% of the population is Muslim, according to the Pew Research Center.
Cyprus has about 11,000 Catholics, according to its national statistical service, and Greece is home to about 50,000 Catholics (0.5% of the population).
Addressing the countries’ small Catholic populations, Pope Francis said: “I come to you, dear Catholic sisters and brothers, gathered in those lands in small flocks which the Father loves so tenderly and to which Jesus the Good Shepherd repeats: ‘Fear not, little flock’ (Luke 12:32). I come with affection to bring you the encouragement of the whole Catholic Church.”
The countries of Cyprus and Greece are also linked through the Apostle Paul, who traveled to both areas. The Acts of the Apostles records that St. Paul stopped in Cyprus and converted the Roman Proconsul Sergius Paulus to Christianity. The Apostle also famously preached on the streets of Athens.