Pope Francis has stressed the importance of community and urged people to work together to heal their pain as he celebrated mass in Cyprus for thousands of Catholics, many of them overseas workers.
The head of the Catholic Church led the open-air ceremony at GSP Stadium outside Nicosia, the capital city, on the second day of a visit to the divided island.
The pontiff’s trip has focused heavily on the plight of migrants, 50 of whom he is expected to offer the chance of a new life in Italy, the president of the host country said.
Overseas workers from the Philippines and other Asian countries make up a sizeable proportion of the 25,000 Catholics in mainly Greek-Orthodox Cyprus.
Footage filmed outside the stadium on Friday morning showed crowds of people queuing to enter.
The Pope’s gospel reading told of how Jesus restored the sight of two blind men after they professed their faith in him.
Pope Francis told his congregants that sin distorts people’s view of God and makes them “see each other as problems”.
“Dear brothers and sisters, faced with our inner darkness and the challenges before us in the church and in society, we are called to renew our sense of fraternity,” he told the congregation.
“We remain divided if each person thinks only of himself or herself or his or her group, if we refuse to stick together. If we do not dialogue and work together, we will never be completely healed of our blindness.
“Healing takes place when we carry our pain together, when we face our problems together, when we listen and speak to one another. That is the grace of living in community, of recognising how important it is to be in community.”
One woman taking part in the “Prayers of the Faithful” invited worshippers to join her in praying that migrant and refugees would receive “humane and fraternal hospitality” in their host nations. Prayers were recited in English, Filipino and Arabic.
Before the mass, the Pope visited the Holy Archbishopric of the Greek Orthodox Church of Cyprus in Nicosia, seeking to improve historically difficult relations between the Roman Catholic and Greek Orthodox churches.
“Where our relations are concerned, history has opened broad furrows between us but the Holy Spirit desires that with humility and respect we once more draw close to one another,” he said in an address to Orthodox clerics, including Archbishop Chrysostomos II of Cyprus.
Elena Shentsova, an Orthodox Christian originally from Ukraine, said she woke up early to see the event.
“I’m Orthodox and I hope he will spread a message of dialogue between the different religions, to be all more close,” the 42-year-old told AFP.
Later on Friday, the Pope, 84, will meet migrants from dozens of nations at Nicosia’s Church of the Holy Cross, near the UN-patrolled Green Line that splits the country.
He will hold an “ecumenical prayer service” for the migrants, some of whom have been in the country for months awaiting an outcome for their asylum applications.
Francis, on his 35th international trip since becoming pope in 2013, is the second pope to visit Cyprus after Benedict XVI went in 2010.
Cyprus has been split since 1974 when Turkish forces invaded and occupied the island’s northern third in response to a military coup sponsored by the Greek junta in power at the time.
Only Ankara recognises the self-proclaimed Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, and tension simmers between the two sides, with the south accusing the north of sending irregular migrants across the dividing line.
After wrapping up the two-day visit, Pope Francis will travel on to Greece on Saturday morning.