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Archbishop Gänswein: Benedict XVI had three COVID-19 vaccine doses ‘out of conviction’

Archbishop Georg Gänswein in St. Peter’s Square on Sept. 25, 2019. / Daniel Ibáñez/CNA.

Vatican City, Dec 3, 2021 / 12:00 pm (CNA).

Archbishop Georg Gänswein has said that both he and Benedict XVI have received three COVID-19 vaccine doses “out of conviction.”

The pope emeritus’ private secretary made the remark in a nine-page interview in the December edition of the German publication Vatican-magazin.

The Vatican began administering doses of the Pfizer-BioNtech vaccine in January and confirmed in February that the pope emeritus had received the second dose of the vaccine. It began to administer the third dose in October.

Gänswein was asked about Catholic opposition to coronavirus vaccines, some of which were produced using cell lines from aborted fetuses.

His interviewer said that Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, the controversial former apostolic nuncio to the United States, had criticized the Vatican for promoting a vaccination campaign.

Gänswein said that he could not understand the criticisms.

“One cannot raise the question of vaccination to the level of faith. Nor can one speak of Pope Francis having launched a media campaign for vaccination. But he did call for it and also had himself vaccinated at an early stage. That is correct,” the 65-year-old archbishop said.

“By the way, Pope Benedict and I have already been vaccinated for the third time. And we did so out of conviction.”

Pope Francis recorded a public service announcement supporting vaccination that was released in August in collaboration with the Ad Council.

Gänswein acknowledged that “every vaccination has advantages and disadvantages.” But he recalled that Cardinal Gualtiero Bassetti, the president of the Italian bishops’ conference, became seriously ill after contracting COVID-19 and afterward cautioned “against any form of ideological crusade against vaccination.”

“One must not force anyone to vaccinate, that is quite clear. But one should appeal to the conscience,” Gänswein commented.

Asked if Benedict XVI saw the issue the same way, he answered in the affirmative, saying: “Otherwise he would not have had himself vaccinated three times.”

But Gänswein, who is from the Black Forest region of Germany, also criticized the Church’s response to the virus in his homeland.

“As far as Germany is concerned, I have never understood why Church authorities have sometimes even exceeded state guidelines and have been so excessively loyal to the state during the crisis,” he said.

“I understand the concern for safety and security. But when the welfare of the body is placed above the salvation of the soul, and that was not just my impression, then something is awry.”

CNA Deutsch, CNA’s German-language news partner, reported that the archbishop described Benedict XVI as “stable in his physical frailty and, thank God, crystal clear in his head.”

“But it is also understandable that at 94 and after the death of his brother, which took its toll on him, his physical strength continued to decline. It is similar with his voice. The best medicine for him is humor and a steady daily rhythm,” the archbishop said.

Gänswein became personal secretary to the future Pope Benedict XVI in 2003.

He was appointed prefect of the Papal Household in 2012, continuing in the role after the resignation of Benedict XVI and the election of Pope Francis a year later.

But he was placed on leave from his duties as prefect in 2020 to be able to dedicate his time exclusively to the former pope.

He said that the decision had troubled him, but he had been able to discuss it with Pope Francis.

“The good thing is that you can talk to him openly and directly,” he said.

Pope Francis in Cyprus: We encounter Jesus in the faces of migrants

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

Rome Newsroom, Dec 3, 2021 / 09:00 am (CNA).

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 of 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 divided 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 were “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.”

Pope Francis said that he feels that it is his responsibility to help people open their eyes to the sufferings of migrants who are held in camps.

"Looking at you, I think of so many who had to go back because they were rejected and ended up in the camps, real camps, where women are sold, men tortured, enslaved," the pope said.

"We complain when we read the stories of the camps of the last century, those of the Nazis, those of Stalin. We complain when we see this and say, 'but how did this happen?' Brothers and sisters, it is happening today, on nearby shores. ... I've watched some filmed accounts of this: places of torture, of selling people."

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.”

Vatican Media.
Vatican Media.

“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.”

Apostolic nuncio to EU dies after contracting COVID-19

Pope Francis meets Msgr. Aldo Giordano, apostolic nuncio to the European Union, on June 17, 2021. / Vatican Media.

Leuven, Belgium, Dec 3, 2021 / 08:10 am (CNA).

Archbishop Aldo Giordano, the apostolic nuncio to the European Union, died Thursday at the age of 67 after he was hospitalized with COVID-19.

Cardinal Jean-Claude Hollerich paid tribute to the archbishop, who died on Dec. 2 in Leuven, Belgium.

“In the few months since his appointment as Apostolic Nuncio to the European Union, Mgsr. Giordano left a lasting mark on all of us,” said the cardinal, who is president of the Commission of the Bishops’ Conferences of the EU (COMECE).

“Motivated by his great desire to contribute to the European project from a Catholic perspective, since his arrival in Brussels he dedicated every moment to develop human and diplomatic ties.”

Giordano served as general secretary of the Council of European Bishops’ Conferences (CCEE) from 1995 to 2008 and as permanent observer of the Holy See to the Council of Europe from 2008 to 2013.

Pope Francis appointed him apostolic nuncio to Venezuela in 2013, replacing the future Cardinal Pietro Parolin, who was recalled to Rome to serve as Vatican Secretary of State.

The pope named Giordano apostolic nuncio to the EU, a political and economic bloc of 27 member states, in May this year.

COMECE general secretary Father Manuel Barrios Prieto said: “It was a real blessing to meet him and to share with him beautiful moments of coexistence and fraternity, together with the bishops of COMECE.”

Giordano’s funeral will take place at the cathedral in Cuneo, a city in northern Italy where he was born in 1954. The date of the funeral has not yet been announced.

Interrogation tapes in Vatican finance trial leaked to media

A hearing in the Vatican finance trial on Nov. 17, 2021. / Vatican Media.

Vatican City, Dec 3, 2021 / 07:20 am (CNA).

Videotapes of interrogations with a key witness in the ongoing Vatican finance trial have been leaked to an Italian newspaper.

Corriere della Sera reported in a Dec. 3 article billed as an “exclusive” that journalists at the Italian newspaper had viewed the video footage of interviews between Vatican prosecutors and Msgr. Alberto Perlasca, a former official at the Secretariat of State, who was once considered a suspect in the finance investigations but has not been charged after volunteering information to investigators during extensive questioning in 2020 and 2021.

The Perlasca tapes have been at the center of arguments at recent hearings in the trial to prosecute alleged crimes committed against the Secretariat of State surrounding its purchase of a 350 million euro ($404 million) investment property in London.

Prosecutors allege that the investment went sour because people in and around the Secretariat of State conspired to defraud the Vatican of hundreds of thousands of euros.

The newspaper has published on its website over 14 minutes of excerpts of the videos of Perlasca’s depositions, in which he indicates that Pope Francis authorized the Secretariat of State to negotiate with businessman Gianluigi Torzi, who brokered the final stage of the London deal and is one of the trial’s defendants.

Perlasca can be seen sitting behind a table in front of a wall of guns. He claims that he was “distanced” from the London deal by Archbishop Edgar Peña Parra, the substitute of the Secretariat of State, because “everyone knew I was for the reporting of those men.”

Asked why he was distanced from the deal, Perlasca can be seen pointing upward, while he says, “because the indication from above was to deal… to deal…” Another voice can be heard interjecting, “The indication [was] from the Holy Father?” To which Perlasca replies, “Sure, sure.”

Eighteen lawyers for the defense signed a joint statement Dec. 3 condemning the publication of the video recordings for creating a “parallel trial ... in defiance of the law.”

“According to the rules of the Vatican jurisdiction, the documents formed ‘in the proceedings’ (or in the investigations) cannot be published even in part until they have been read at the trial,” the statement said, noting that the leaked video recordings have not come out yet in trial hearings.

“Therefore, this disclosure appears illegitimate and we hope that those responsible for it will be identified,” the attorneys said. “We believe that the right of defense must be respected and implemented with every possible attention.”

Perlasca's statements about Pope Francis had also been made public via transcripts in a note from defendant Enrico Crasso’s lawyer to the court in a hearing on Nov. 17. The lawyer used the statement to raise questions about Pope Francis’ involvement in the deal at the center of the trial, arguing that if the pope was questioned regarding the London investment, his testimony should be considered part of the evidence.

For the defense attorney, it indicated another reason why the tribunal should nullify one of the indictments against his client.

Tribunal president Giuseppe Pignatone said at the Nov. 17 hearing that he would rule at the next audience, now postponed to Dec. 14, on the defense’s new request to dismiss the trial on procedural grounds.

At a previous hearing, Pignatone decided to throw out several of the indictments against a number of the original 10 defendants on procedural grounds.

While the prosecutor’s office — called the Promoter of Justice — decides whether to re-do the investigations and again present the dismissed indictments, the trial proceeds with six defendants, including Cardinal Angelo Becciu, the highest-ranking cleric to be tried by the tribunal of Vatican City State in recent history.

At the most recent hearing on Nov. 17, defense lawyers complained that parts had been edited out of the video recordings of Perlasca’s interviews, after the prosecution had finally handed copies over to the attorneys after an order by court president Pignatone.

This story was updated at 9:53 MST with the lawyers' statement.

Interrogation tapes in Vatican finance trial leaked to media

A hearing in the Vatican finance trial on Nov. 17, 2021. / Vatican Media.

Vatican City, Dec 3, 2021 / 07:20 am (CNA).

Videotapes of interrogations with a key witness in the ongoing Vatican finance trial have been leaked to an Italian newspaper.

Corriere della Sera reported in a Dec. 3 article billed as an “exclusive” that journalists at the Italian newspaper had viewed the video footage of interviews between Vatican prosecutors and Msgr. Alberto Perlasca, a former official at the Secretariat of State, who was once considered a suspect in the finance investigations but has not been charged after volunteering information to investigators during extensive questioning in 2020 and 2021.

The Perlasca tapes have been at the center of arguments at recent hearings in the trial to prosecute alleged crimes committed against the Secretariat of State surrounding its purchase of a 350 million euro ($404 million) investment property in London.

Prosecutors allege that the investment went sour because people in and around the Secretariat of State conspired to defraud the Vatican of hundreds of thousands of euros.

The newspaper has published on its website over 14 minutes of excerpts of the videos of Perlasca’s depositions, in which he indicates that Pope Francis authorized the Secretariat of State to negotiate with businessman Gianluigi Torzi, who brokered the final stage of the London deal and is one of the trial’s defendants.

Perlasca can be seen sitting behind a table in front of a wall of guns. He claims that he was “distanced” from the London deal by Archbishop Edgar Peña Parra, the substitute of the Secretariat of State, because “everyone knew I was for the reporting of those men.”

Asked why he was distanced from the deal, Perlasca can be seen pointing upward, while he says, “because the indication from above was to deal… to deal…” Another voice can be heard interjecting, “The indication [was] from the Holy Father?” To which Perlasca replies, “Sure, sure.”

Eighteen lawyers for the defense signed a joint statement Dec. 3 condemning the publication of the video recordings for creating a “parallel trial ... in defiance of the law.”

“According to the rules of the Vatican jurisdiction, the documents formed ‘in the proceedings’ (or in the investigations) cannot be published even in part until they have been read at the trial,” the statement said, noting that the leaked video recordings have not come out yet in trial hearings.

“Therefore, this disclosure appears illegitimate and we hope that those responsible for it will be identified,” the attorneys said. “We believe that the right of defense must be respected and implemented with every possible attention.”

Perlasca's statements about Pope Francis had also been made public via transcripts in a note from defendant Enrico Crasso’s lawyer to the court in a hearing on Nov. 17. The lawyer used the statement to raise questions about Pope Francis’ involvement in the deal at the center of the trial, arguing that if the pope was questioned regarding the London investment, his testimony should be considered part of the evidence.

For the defense attorney, it indicated another reason why the tribunal should nullify one of the indictments against his client.

Tribunal president Giuseppe Pignatone said at the Nov. 17 hearing that he would rule at the next audience, now postponed to Dec. 14, on the defense’s new request to dismiss the trial on procedural grounds.

At a previous hearing, Pignatone decided to throw out several of the indictments against a number of the original 10 defendants on procedural grounds.

While the prosecutor’s office — called the Promoter of Justice — decides whether to re-do the investigations and again present the dismissed indictments, the trial proceeds with six defendants, including Cardinal Angelo Becciu, the highest-ranking cleric to be tried by the tribunal of Vatican City State in recent history.

At the most recent hearing on Nov. 17, defense lawyers complained that parts had been edited out of the video recordings of Perlasca’s interviews, after the prosecution had finally handed copies over to the attorneys after an order by court president Pignatone.

This story was updated at 9:53 MST with the lawyers' statement.

Pope Francis to Catholics in Cyprus: ‘Jesus alone frees the heart from evil’

Pope Francis celebrates Mass at the GSP Stadium in Nicosia, Cyprus, Dec. 3, 2021. / Vatican Media.

Nicosia, Cyprus, Dec 3, 2021 / 04:23 am (CNA).

Pope Francis said on Friday that “Jesus alone frees the heart from evil” as he celebrated Mass in the divided capital city of Cyprus.

Preaching at the GSP Stadium in Nicosia on Dec. 3, the pope described Christ as a “physician” eager to bring healing to the human heart.

Vatican Media.
Vatican Media.

“Jesus is the physician: he alone is the true light that illuminates every man and woman, the one who gives us an abundance of light, warmth, and love. Jesus alone frees the heart from evil,” he said at the live-streamed Mass.

The pope was offering Mass on the second day of his visit to Cyprus, an island in the eastern Mediterranean Sea with a population of 1.2 million people.

Andrea Gagliarducci.
Andrea Gagliarducci.

The country is predominantly Orthodox Christian, with a Catholic minority of around 10,000 people — the estimated attendance figure at the Mass, according to the Holy See press office.

The booklet for the Mass, celebrated on the feast of St. Francis Xavier in the largest stadium in Cyprus, included Latin, English, Greek, and Italian.

Vatican Media.
Vatican Media.

The pope based his homily on the day’s Gospel reading, Matthew 9:27-31, in which Jesus heals two blind men who call out to him.

He reflected on three facets of the encounter: first, that the men went to Jesus for healing; second, that they shared their pain; and third, that they joyfully proclaimed the Good News.

Vatican Media.
Vatican Media.

“Like those two blind men, we are often like wayfarers, immersed in the darkness of life,” he said.

“The first thing to do in response is go to Jesus, just as he tells us: ‘Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest’ (Matthew 11:28).”

Vatican Media.
Vatican Media.

“Is there any one of us who is not, in some way, tired or heavy laden? Everyone. Yet, we resist coming to Jesus. Often we would rather remain closed in on ourselves, alone in our darkness, feeling sorry for ourselves and content to have sadness as our companion.”

The pope urged Catholics instead to follow Jesus, telling him their needs, and handing over their bitterness to him.

Pope Francis celebrated the Mass at the same altar that Benedict XVI used during his trip to Cyprus in 2010, when he became the first pope to visit the island.

Vatican Media.
Vatican Media.

Francis was flanked by Cardinal Bechara Boutros Rai, the leader of the Maronite Church, one of the 23 autonomous Eastern Catholic Churches in full communion with Rome. The cardinal had welcomed the pope to the Maronite Cathedral of Our Lady of Grace in Nicosia on the first day of his visit.

Pope Francis greets Latin Patriarch Pierbattista Pizzaballa of Jerusalem. Vatican Media.
Pope Francis greets Latin Patriarch Pierbattista Pizzaballa of Jerusalem. Vatican Media.

Also at the pope’s side in the home stadium of the Cyprus national soccer team was the Latin Patriarch Pierbattista Pizzaballa of Jerusalem, who oversees the pastoral care of Latin Catholics in Cyprus.

Andrea Gagliarducci.
Andrea Gagliarducci.

The pope, who turns 85 on Dec. 17, said that Catholics had much to learn from the way that the two blind men shared their suffering with Jesus, asking him to have mercy on them.

“Each of us is blind in some way as a result of sin, which prevents us from ‘seeing’ God as our Father and one another as brothers and sisters. For that is what sin does; it distorts reality: it makes us see God as a tyrant and each other as problems,” the pope reflected.

Andrea Gagliarducci.
Andrea Gagliarducci.

“It is the work of the tempter, who distorts things, putting them in a negative light, to make us fall into despair and bitterness. And a terrible sadness, which is dangerous and not from God, lurks well in solitude. So, one must not face the darkness alone. If we bear our inner blindness alone, we can become overwhelmed.”

He said that healing occurs when Christians carry their pain together, listening deeply to one another.

Vatican Media.
Vatican Media.

The pope noted that the two blind men began to share the news of their healing, despite Jesus’ request that they tell no one.

“From what we are told, it is clear that their intention was not to disobey the Lord; they were simply unable to contain their excitement at their healing and the joy of their encounter with Jesus,” he said.

Vatican Media.
Vatican Media.

Quoting from his 2013 apostolic exhortation Evangelii gaudium, he continued: “This is another distinctive sign of the Christian: the irrepressible joy of the Gospel, which ‘fills the hearts and lives of all who encounter Jesus.’ The joy of the Gospel frees us from the risk of a private, gloomy, and querulous faith, and leads us into the dynamism of witness.”

He thanked Catholics in Cyprus for their witness to the Gospel.

“It is not proselytism — please, never proselytize — but witness; not a moralism that judges — no, don’t do that — but a mercy that embraces; not superficial piety but love lived out. I encourage you to keep advancing on this path,” he said.

Andrea Gagliarducci.
Andrea Gagliarducci.

Concluding his homily, he said: “Brothers and sisters, the Lord Jesus is passing, passing also through the streets of Cyprus, hearing the cries of our blindness.”

“He wants to touch our eyes and hearts and to lead us to the light, to rebirth and raise us up within. He asks us the same question that he asked the two blind men: ‘Do you believe that I am able to do this?’ (Matthew 9:28).”

“Do we believe that Jesus can do this? Let us renew our faith in him. Let us say to him: Jesus, we believe that your light is greater than our darkness; we believe that you can heal us, that you can renew our fellowship, that you can increase our joy. With the entire Church, let us pray, all together: Come, Lord Jesus!”

Highlights of Pope Francis' second day in Cyprus

In this video, we relive the highlights of Pope Francis' second day in Cyprus, which saw the Holy Father pay a courtesy visit to the Orthodox Archbishop of Cyprus, Chrysostomos II, meet with the Holy Synod, celebrate Holy Mass for thousands of faithful in GSP Stadium in Nicosia, and share a moment of Ecumenical Prayer with migrants in the Catholic parish of the Holy Cross.

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Pope Francis to Orthodox bishops in Cyprus: Let us seek full unity

Pope Francis addresses Orthodox bishops in the Orthodox Cathedral in Nicosia, Cyprus, Dec. 3, 2021. / Vatican Media.

Rome Newsroom, Dec 3, 2021 / 01:15 am (CNA).

In a meeting with Orthodox bishops in Cyprus on Friday, Pope Francis expressed the desire that the Catholic Church and Orthodox Church will continue to journey toward full unity.

The live-streamed meeting with members of the Holy Synod took place on the second day of Francis’ Dec. 2-6 trip to the Mediterranean island countries of Cyprus and Greece.

Vatican Media.
Vatican Media.

The Holy Synod is the highest authority of the Church of Cyprus, an autocephalous Eastern Orthodox Church.

“The grace of being here reminds me that we have a common apostolic origin: Paul traversed Cyprus and went on to Rome,” Pope Francis said Dec. 3. “We are thus heirs of the same apostolic zeal, and a single path joins us, that of the Gospel. I like to see us advancing on that same path, seeking ever greater fraternity and full unity.”

The meeting with Orthodox bishops followed a private meeting between Francis and Chrysostomos II, the Orthodox archbishop of Cyprus, at his residence early Friday morning.

Pope Francis said in his speech that he had been touched by the way that Chrysostomos II had spoken about the Church as a mother.

Chrysostomos II represented the Holy Synod of the Orthodox Church of Cyprus at the funeral of Pope John Paul II and the opening Mass of Benedict XVI’s pontificate. Benedict XVI and Chrysostomos II met another two times at the Vatican and during Benedict’s own trip to Cyprus in 2010 — the first papal visit to the island.

Pope Francis kisses the pectoral cross of Chrysostomos II, the Orthodox archbishop of Cyprus. Vatican Media.
Pope Francis kisses the pectoral cross of Chrysostomos II, the Orthodox archbishop of Cyprus. Vatican Media.

Pope Francis thanked the bishops for their active participation in the International Mixed Commission for Theological Dialogue between the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church.

He reflected on the example of St. Barnabas, an apostle who came from Cyprus and helped St. Paul to spread the Gospel among pagans.

“Barnabas, son of consolation, exhorts us, his brethren, to undertake the same mission of bringing the Gospel to humanity; he asks us to realize that the message cannot be based only on generic exhortations, the inculcation of precepts and rules to be followed, as often has been the case,” the pope said.

“Rather, it must follow the path of personal encounter, be attentive to people’s questions, to their existential needs.”

“Because the Gospel is not handed on by communication, but by communion,” Francis emphasized. “It is this that we Catholics want to experience in the next few years, as we rediscover the synodal dimension, which is essential to being Church.”

“In this, we feel the need to walk more closely alongside you, dear brethren, who, through your experience of synodality, can truly help us,” he said.

Vatican Media.
Vatican Media.

Pope Francis met the Holy Synod in the Cathedral of St. John the Theologian, the Orthodox cathedral of the Church of Cyprus in Nicosia, the country’s divided capital city. The cathedral was built in the 14th century and the interior features frescoes depicting scenes from Scripture.

“It is my heartfelt hope that there will be increased opportunities for encounter, for coming to know one another better, for eliminating preconceptions and for listening with docility to our respective experiences of faith,” the pope said in his speech.

Vatican Media.
Vatican Media.

He also spoke about the importance of keeping what is sacred, but not “absolutizing” certain customs and habits “that do not require uniformity and assent on the part of all.”

“Let us not become paralyzed by fear of openness or bold gestures, or give in to talk of ‘irreconcilable differences’ that in fact have nothing to do with the Gospel. Let us not permit the ‘traditions,’ in the plural and with a small ‘t,’ to prevail over ‘Tradition’ in the singular and with a capital ‘T,’” he said.

“That Tradition bids us imitate Barnabas and leave behind everything, however good, that could compromise the fullness of communion, the primacy of charity, and the need for unity.”

Pope Francis said that St. Barnabas laid all he had at the feet of the Apostles, and “we too are asked by the Lord to realize that we are members of the same body and to bow down, even to the feet of our brethren.”

He noted the deep divide that exists between the Orthodox and Catholic Churches, but said that “the Holy Spirit desires that with humility and respect we once more draw close to one another.”

“[The Holy Spirit] invites us not to grow resigned to our past divisions and to cultivate together the field of the kingdom with patience, perseverance, and concrete gestures,” he said. “For if we set aside abstract concepts and cooperate, for example in works of charity, education and the promotion of human dignity, we will rediscover our fraternity, and communion will mature by itself, to the praise of God.”

Francis said that Cyprus’ Church of Panagia Chrysopolitissa, “Our Lady of the Golden City,” is a concrete example of fraternity, since it serves as a place of worship for all of the Christian confessions in the country.

“It is thus a sign of communion in faith and life under the gaze of the Mother of God who gathers her children together,” he said.

“Each will maintain his own customs and identity, but in time, our joint efforts will increase concord and bear fruit,” the pope continued. “Just as these beautiful Mediterranean lands are embellished by respectful and patient human labor, so too, with God’s help and humble perseverance, may we cultivate our apostolic communion.”

Vatican Media.
Vatican Media.

Pope Francis landed on Dec. 2 in Cyprus at the start of a five-day trip that will also take him to Athens, Greece, and the island of Lesbos. The visit is expected to highlight the plight of migrants, since both countries have been major stopping points for people seeking to enter Europe, mainly from the Middle East and Africa.

The predominantly Orthodox Christian Republic of Cyprus has a population of 1.2 million people, just 10,000 of whom are Catholic.

The island is split by a U.N. buffer zone, with the de facto state of Northern Cyprus located on the northeastern portion of the island. The predominantly Sunni Muslim territory is recognized only by neighboring Turkey, which invaded Cyprus in 1974, and is regarded by all other states as part of the Republic of Cyprus.

Cyprus and Greece are significant in early Christian history, because the Apostles St. Paul and St. Barnabas traveled to the Mediterranean countries to bring the Gospel. 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.

“Dear brethren, I wish to assure you of my own prayer and closeness, and that of the Catholic Church, in the most troubling problems that beset you and in the best and boldest hopes that spur you on,” Pope Francis told the Orthodox bishops. “Your sorrows and your joys are also ours; we sense them as our own. At the same time, we feel great need of your prayers.”

Pope’s ecumenical prayer with migrants in Cyprus a “genius combination"

Father Nikodemus Schnabel, the Patriarchal Vicar of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem for Migrants and Asylum Seekers comments on the Pope’s ecumenical prayer meeting in Cyprus.

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Pope at Ecumenical Prayer: May the Lord awaken our consciences!

Pope Francis concludes his Apostolic Journey to Cyprus with an Ecumenical Prayer service with migrants, where he reflects on God’s dream for a “world of peace, in which all His children live as brothers and sisters.”

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