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Pope to revisit Lesbos on trip to Cyprus, Greece

By AFP
05 November 2021   |   1:50 pm
Pope Francis will visit Cyprus and Greece next month, the Vatican said Friday, returning to the island of Lesbos, a major port of entry for migrants into Europe.

Pope Francis celebrates a mass at St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican on November 4, 2021, to pay tribute to bishops and cardinals who passed away this year. (Photo by YARA NARDI / POOL / AFP)

Pope Francis will visit Cyprus and Greece next month, the Vatican said Friday, returning to the island of Lesbos, a major port of entry for migrants into Europe.

His 35th trip abroad comes just five months after the Argentine pontiff, who turns 85 in December, was hospitalised following surgery on his colon.

“Pope Francis will travel to Cyprus from 2 to 4 December, visiting the city of Nicosia, and to Greece from 4 to 6 December, visiting Athens and the island of Lesbos,” spokesman Matteo Bruni said in a brief statement.

The Argentine pontiff has travelled widely since he took office in 2013, and although his schedule was suspended by the coronavirus pandemic, this year he has already made a historic trip to Iraq and visits to the Hungarian capital and Slovakia.

Migration has been a key theme — his first trip as pope, in July 2013, was to the Italian island of Lampedusa, the landing point for migrants crossing the Mediterranean from North Africa.

While there, he criticised the “globalisation of indifference” over migrants.

In April 2016, he visited Lesbos at the height of Europe’s migrant crisis, where he paid a trip to Moria, the continent’s largest migrant camp that was destroyed by fire last year.

Lesbos has for years been the main entry point into Europe for asylum seekers.

Josif Printezis, the Catholic archbishop for Greek islands in the Aegean, said earlier this month that the pope “wishes to see the evolution of the refugee issue, the fruits of Greece’s efforts and make a humanitarian statement”.

He would say “that the Church and all European peoples care about refugees, and that the weight borne by Greece should be recognised by the other European countries”, Printezis said.

After his last visit to Lesbos, Francis took three Syrian families from the camp home with him, in what he described as a humanitarian gesture.

The Vatican said later that the group, selected on the grounds that their paperwork was sufficiently in order, had settled into life in Rome and started to learn Italian.

‘More tired’
The last papal visit to the Mediterranean island of Cyprus was by Benedict XVI in 2010.

The island has been divided since 1974 between the Greek-speaking, Orthodox Christian-majority Republic of Cyprus and the breakaway Muslim-majority Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, recognised only by Ankara.

Several other visits are in the works.

The pope said in October he intends to visit Oceania for the first time next year, without saying where, and also had “in my head” trips to Congo and the rest of Hungary.

Speaking to Argentine news agency Telam, he said he was overdue a trip to Papua New Guinea and East Timor originally planned for 2020.

The pope had expressed hope he could fly to Glasgow for this month’s UN talks on climate change, another subject close to his heart, but in the end he sent only a video message.

Despite his busy schedule, there are signs that his age is catching up with him.

On returning from a gruelling three-day trip to Iraq, the pope admitted he “felt a lot more tired” than during other visits.

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