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Report: Pope Francis could bring 50 migrants from Cyprus to Italy

November 29, 2021 Catholic News Agency 1
Pope Francis greets a migrant at a welcoming hub near Cesena, Italy on Oct. 1, 2017. / L’Osservatore Romano.

Vatican City, Nov 29, 2021 / 12:00 pm (CNA).

Pope Francis could reportedly help to bring up to 50 migrants to Italy as part of his trip to Cyprus and Greece this week.

Cypriot government spokesman Marios Pelekanos said that the Vatican wanted to arrange the transfer of migrants currently in Cyprus to Rome, Reuters reported on Nov. 26.

“This is a tangible expression of solidarity by the head of the Roman Catholic Church to people in need, affirming that the Vatican recognizes the problem that the Republic of Cyprus faces today because of the increased migratory flows and the need for a fair distribution among EU member states,” Pelekanos said, according to Reuters.

Pope Francis will depart for the Mediterranean island of Cyprus this Thursday for a five-day visit that will also take him to Greece. The trip is expected to highlight the plight of migrants seeking to enter Europe, mainly from the Middle East and Africa.

The last time that Pope Francis visited Greece, in 2016, he brought three Syrian refugee families from the Moria refugee camp on the island of Lesbos back with him to Rome.

Among the refugees relocated with the pope’s help was Majid Alshakarji, who escaped the Syrian civil war at the age of 15.

Five years later, Alshakarji is now studying at a university in Rome to become a dentist and volunteers with the Catholic Community of Sant’Egidio, helping to welcome new refugees to Italy.

“We have been allowed to have a new life in a new country … It is a beautiful experience,” he told CNA in 2020.

Sant’Egidio helped to organize the arrival of 70 Syrian refugees in Rome on Nov. 29.

The refugees, who had been living in refugee camps in Lebanon, came to Italy through the humanitarian corridors promoted by the Catholic movement in coordination with the Federation of Evangelical Churches in Italy and the Italian government.

Pope Francis has repeatedly urged governments not to “lose sight of the human face of migration.”

Most recently, in a message on Nov. 29 marking the 70th anniversary of the International Organization for Migration, the pope decried the “double standard” that places economic interests over “the needs and dignity of the human person.”

“On the one hand, in the markets of upper-middle-income countries, migrant labor is in high demand and welcomed as a way to compensate for the lack of it. On the other, migrants are generally rejected and subject to resentful attitudes by many of their host communities,” he said.

“This tendency was particularly evident during the COVID-19 lockdowns, when many of the ‘essential’ workers were migrants, but they were not granted the benefits of the COVID-19 economic aid programs or even access to basic health care and immunization,” the pope added.

The pope’s message to the U.N. organization was read by Cardinal Pietro Parolin in a video message.

Pope Francis underlined that “we must never forget that these are not statistics, but real people whose lives are at stake.”

“Rooted in its centuries-long experience, the Catholic Church and its institutions will continue their mission of welcoming, protecting, promoting, and integrating people on the move,” he said.

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News Briefs

Pope Francis to disabled people: The Church needs you

November 25, 2021 Catholic News Agency 3
Pope Francis embraces a man in a wheelchair at the Wednesday general audience in St. Peter’s Square on June 10, 2015. / L’Osservatore Romano.

Vatican City, Nov 25, 2021 / 10:00 am (CNA).

In his message for the International Day of Persons with Disabilities, Pope Francis said that the Catholic Church needs the participation of everyone, and the disabled must not be excluded from the sacraments.

“As we celebrate your International Day, I would like to speak directly to all of you who live with any condition of disability, to tell you that the Church loves you and needs each of you for the fulfillment of her mission at the service of the Gospel,” the pope said on Nov. 25.

The International Day of Persons with Disabilities will be celebrated on Dec. 3. Pope Francis’ message marking the day was released in print, as well as in video form with translations in American Sign Language and Italian Sign Language.

Quoting his 2013 exhortation Evangelii gaudium, he said: “The worst form of discrimination … is the lack of spiritual care.”

“Sometimes, as certain of you have unfortunately experienced, this has taken the form of denying access to the sacraments,” he said in his message.

“The Church’s magisterium is very clear in this area, and recently the Directory for Catechesis stated explicitly that ‘no one can deny the sacraments to persons with disabilities.’”

The theme of Pope Francis’ message for the day is friendship with Jesus, which he said is “an undeserved gift” that all have received and that can help those experiencing discrimination.

Friendship with Christ “redeems us and enables us to perceive differences as a treasure. For Jesus does not call us servants, women and men of lesser dignity, but friends: confidants worthy of knowing all that he has received from the Father,” he said.

Antonietta Pantone, 31, a Rome resident who uses a wheelchair, told journalists it was clear to her from the pope’s message that he considers it important that people with disabilities be part of the Church and not leave the Church.

She shared her personal journey of faith, which included finding a community in the Christian disability group Fede e Luce.

Pope Francis meets with Foi et Lumière members on Oct. 2, 2021. Vatican Media/CNA
Pope Francis meets with Foi et Lumière members on Oct. 2, 2021. Vatican Media/CNA

Fede e Luce is the Italian branch of the French association Foi et Lumière (known as Faith and Light in the English-speaking world), which began 50 years ago with a pilgrimage for people with disabilities to the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Lourdes in France. The movement has now expanded to five continents.

“I always say: In the eyes of God, we are all equal,” Pantone said, noting that in her journey of faith, friendship has been fundamental.

Friendship with others “demonstrates the closeness of God,” she said.

Pantone also explained how losing physical contact with friends because of the COVID-19 pandemic has been very hard for her and other disabled people, especially her friends who live in residences and not with family.

In his message, Pope Francis addressed the difficulty of the coronavirus outbreak for the disabled.

“I think, for example, of your being forced to stay at home for long periods of time; the difficulty experienced by many students with disabilities in accessing aids to distance learning; the lengthy interruption of social care services in a good number of countries; and many other hardships that you have had to face,” he wrote.

He mentioned in particular those who live in residential facilities, separated from loved ones. “In those places, the virus hit hard and, despite the dedication of caretakers, it has taken all too many lives,” he said.

He also emphasized the importance of confronting these challenges by finding consolation in prayer and friendship with Jesus.

“I would like to speak personally to each of you, and I ask that, if necessary, your family members or those closest to you read my words to you, or convey my appeal,” he said. “I ask you to pray. The Lord listens attentively to the prayers of those who trust in him.”

“Prayer is a mission, a mission accessible to everyone, and I would like to entrust that mission in a particular way to you. There is no one so frail that he or she cannot pray, worship the Lord, give glory to his holy Name, and intercede for the salvation of the world. In the sight of the Almighty, we come to realize that we are all equal,” he stressed.

Pope Francis also noted the continued presence of discrimination, ignorance, and prejudice at all levels of society, assuring people with disabilities that through baptism they are “a full-fledged member of the Church community, so that all of us, without exclusion or discrimination, can say: “I am Church!’”

“The Church is truly your home!” he said.

At a Nov. 25 press conference, Fr. Alexandre Awi Mello said that the Vatican’s Dicastery for Laity, Family, and Life is trying to do more to improve pastoral care for those with disabilities.

“This message, in recognizing that people with disabilities have their place in the holy faithful People of God, is a great invitation, for us in the dicastery, but above all for parish, diocesan and associative realities to take new paths with pastoral creativity,” Awi Mello said.

Fr. Alexandre Awi Mello, secretary of the Dicastery for Laity, Family, and Life, speaks at a Vatican press conference, May 18, 2021. Gianluca Teseo/CNA.
Fr. Alexandre Awi Mello, secretary of the Dicastery for Laity, Family, and Life, speaks at a Vatican press conference, May 18, 2021. Gianluca Teseo/CNA.

“It is a door that opens to think of pastoral care no longer for, but with…”

On Dec. 6, the dicastery will launch a video campaign with the hashtag #IamChurch. In five videos, Catholics with disabilities from different parts of the world will share about their experiences in the Church.

Pantone, who participated in one of the Vatican’s videos, told CNA that she would like to see the Catholic Church do more to develop courses that allow people with all kinds of disabilities to participate in parish life, such as formation courses to become a catechism teacher.

“I still had some ways to study [to become a catechist],” she said, “but it depends on the type of disability, so if another disabled person wants to be a catechist, the Church should give him all the appropriate tools.”

Pantone said that the Church can do a lot for the disabled, but the recently begun Synodal Journey “is already a step forward which the world of disability sees positively.”

Pope Francis said in his message that “having Jesus as a friend is an immense consolation. It can turn each of us into a grateful and joyful disciple, one capable of showing that our frailties are no obstacle to living and proclaiming the Gospel.”

“In fact, a trusting and personal friendship with Jesus can serve as the spiritual key to accepting the limitations that all of us have, and thus to be at peace with them,” he said.

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