NICOSIA – On his second day in Cyprus, Pope Francis celebrated Mass for the island’s Catholic community and said the only way to truly recover from the tensions that still divide the country is to seek healing in Jesus together, as brothers and sisters.
In his homily, the pope focused on the day’s Gospel reading from Matthew in which two blind men cry out to Jesus for help, asking him to have mercy on them.
“What they were looking for was healing,” he said, noting that while they could not see him, “they hear his voice and follow in his footsteps.”
They trusted Jesus, Francis said, “Because they realized that, within the darkness of history, he is the light that brightens the ‘nights’ of the heart and the world.”
“We too have a kind of ‘blindness’ in our hearts. Like those two blind men, we are often like wayfarers, immersed in the darkness of life,” he said, saying the first step to healing is to go to Jesus, which many resist, preferring instead to close themselves in darkness, feeling sorry for themselves and stewing in their own sadness.
Jesus, the pope said, “is the divine physician: He alone is the true light that illuminates every man and woman,” and he alone is the one who “frees the heart from evil…Let us give Jesus the chance to heal our hearts.”
To receive healing, Pope Francis said it is also necessary to share one’s pain, rather than bearing it alone, and pointed to the fact that in the Gospel, it was two blind men on the road together who were healed.
They suffer together, and together they asked for help, he said, calling this “an eloquent sign of the Christian life and the distinctive trait of the ecclesial spirit: to think, to speak and to act as ‘we,’ renouncing the individualism and the sense of self-sufficiency that infect the heart.”
Francis said this Gospel story is particularly applicable to Cyprus, which for nearly 50 years has been torn by a contentious ethnic and geographic divide.
Known as “the Cyprus problem,” the island since 1974 has been divided by a so-called “Green Line” that bisects the northern Turkish Cypriot side, and the Greek Cypriot south. The dividing line, which cuts through the center of Cyprus’s capital city of Nicosia, is the product of a ceasefire agreement implemented after a Turkish invasion of the north of the country following a brief coup led by Greek nationalists.
Numerous attempts to unify the island or reach some sort of negotiated agreement have failed, with the government of the Greek Cypriot remaining the only one recognized by the international community, and which has been an EU member since 2004.
The small Mediterranean island nation is also struggling to sustain the large influx of Middle Eastern and African migrants who land on its shores or cross its borders, seeking entry into Europe. For years, Cyprus has been on the frontline of the migrant crisis, and given that many cross over from Turkey, this has added another layer of resentment to an already contentious situation.
Pope Francis met with political authorities in Cyprus Thursday, telling them to adopt an attitude of welcome and brotherhood in order to unify citizens, reconcile the historic divides that still exist today, and to be a true crossroads between cultures.
He celebrated Mass on his second day in Cyprus after meeting with members of the Orthodox Synod earlier that morning. To get into the stadium, attendees were required to wear masks and present either a Green Pass proving vaccinated status or a negative COVID test.
In his homily, Pope Francis drew on the analogy of the blind men from the Gospel, saying that each person 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,” he said. “It is the work of the tempter, who distorts things, putting them in a negative light, in order to make us fall into despair and bitterness.”
When people despair, they fall prey to “a terrible sadness, which is dangerous and not from God,” the pope said, insisting that this darkness must not be faced alone, otherwise it will be overwhelming.
Rather, “We need to stand beside one another, to share our pain and to face the road ahead together,” he said.
Faced with both personal struggles and the challenges that both the Church and society face in Cyprus, the only remedy, Francis said, is “to renew our sense of fraternity” and brotherhood.
“If 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 walk together, we will never be completely healed of our blindness,” he said, insisting that healing only takes place “when we carry our pain together, when we face our problems together, when we listen and speak to one another.”
Returning to the Gospel story, Francis noted that once the two blind men were healed, they went out and spread the Gospel to their region.
“They were simply unable to contain their excitement at their healing and the joy of their encounter with Jesus,” he said, saying 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, naturally leads to witness and frees us from the risk of a private, gloomy and querulous faith.”
To live the Gospel with joy, he said, is not proselytism, “but witness; not a moralism that judges but a mercy that embraces; not superficial piety but love lived out.”
He urged Cypriots to continue forward on the path of healing and brotherhood, and to “come out of ourselves to be fearless witnesses of Jesus to all whom we meet!”
“Brothers and sisters, the Lord Jesus is also passing 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 give us spiritual rebirth and new strength,” he said.
Pope Francis closed asking faithful to renew their faith in Jesus, telling him, “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: Come, Lord Jesus!”
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