Pope meets bishops, priests, religious and catechists in Nicosia
By Linda Bordoni
Dec 3 2021
In the first official discourse of his Apostolic visit to Cyprus and Greece, Pope Francis addresses Bishops, Priests, Men and Women Religious, and Catechists, inviting them to be patient as they go forth in a spirit of fraternity, forgiveness, mercy, and openness.
A “patient” church is the one best suited for the reality in Cyprus, “a church that does not allow itself to be upset and troubled by change, but calmly welcomes newness and discerns situations in the light of the Gospel.”
This is Pope Francis’ vision and encouragement for Catholic clergy, religious, and catechists (click link to find the full text of the Pope’s remarks) gathered in Nicosia’s Maronite Cathedral of Our Lady of Grace at the start of his Apostolic visit to Cyprus.
Addressing representatives of all the Catholic Rites present in Cyprus – the Latin Rite, the Maronites and the Armenian Catholics – the Pope upheld the wealth of their diversity and urged them to persevere “without growing weary or discouraged.”
Amongst those to welcome him were the Maronite Archbishop of Cyprus Selim Sfeir, the Maronite Patriarch of Antioch Bechara Boutros Rai, and the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem Pierbattista Pizzaballa.
Greeting representatives of the Maronite Church, the Pope spoke of his concern for crises currently crippling Lebanon: “I am sensitive to the sufferings of a people wearied and tested by violence and adversity. I carry in my prayer the desire for peace that rises from the heart of that country.”
The patience of St. Barnabas
Getting to the heart of his message, the Pope reflected on the heritage of Cyprus’s patron, Saint Barnabas, whom, he said, was a man of faith and wisdom, whose attitude was one of utmost patience: “the patience to keep moving forward; the patience to enter into the lives of hitherto unknown individuals; the patience to accept what was new without rushing to judgment.”
Barnabas, he continued, also had the patience of discernment, the patience to “study” other cultures and traditions, the patience of accompaniment, shown by how he accompanied newcomers to the faith by taking them by the hand and dialoguing with them.
The open arms of the Cypriot Church
Pope Francis encouraged those present to continue in this path, welcoming newness and discerning situations in the light of the Gospel.
He upheld the work carried out on the island as it welcomes “new brothers and sisters arriving from other shores of the world,” never leaving anyone bereft of its loving embrace.
A message for the Church throughout Europe
“This is also an important message for the Church throughout Europe, marked by the crisis of faith. It does little good to be impulsive and tempestuous, nostalgic or querulous; instead, we do well to march forward, reading the signs of the times as well as the signs of the crisis,” he said.
The Pope also called on priests to be patient in proclaiming the Gospel to the next generation, and on bishops to be patient in being close to their priests and in encountering our brothers and sisters of other confessions.
He asked them to cultivate a culture of forgiveness and mercy and the capacity to have open ears and hearts for different spiritual sensibilities, different ways of expressing the faith, different cultures.
The Church, he said, “does not want to reduce everything to uniformity, but to integrate with patience.”
The need for a fraternal Church
Pope Francis went on to highlight the significance of Barnabas’ encounter with Paul of Tarsus, “an approach of friendship and sharing of life.” He urged those present to take up the history of others, “taking the time to get to know them without labeling them, bearing them on our shoulders when they are tired or wounded, as the good Samaritan did. This is fraternity, and it is our second word.”
He recalled the time the two apostles, who had journeyed together evangelizing the eastern Mediterranean region, had a disagreement and went their separate ways.
However, the Pope noted, although they had different ideas, there was no rancour between them: “This is what fraternity in the Church means: we can argue about visions, sensibilities, and differing ideas.”
“We need a fraternal Church,” the Holy Father reiterated, “one that is an agent of fraternity in our world,” inviting us not to experience diversity as a threat to identity.
Brothers and sisters, all of us!
We are brothers and sisters loved by a single Father, the Pope said, noting that the Church in Cyprus is immersed in the Mediterranean, “a sea rich in history, a sea that has been the cradle of many civilizations, a sea from which today many individuals, peoples, and cultures from every part of the world still disembark.”
He concluded by urging them to remind everyone, and Europe as a whole, “that we need to work together to build a future worthy of humanity, to overcome divisions, to break down walls, to dream and work for unity. We need to welcome and integrate one another, and to walk together as brothers and sisters, all of us!”