In central Nicosia, nothing tells the story of the immigrant influx better than the small courtyard outside the Church of the Holy Cross where migrants line up every morning to get handouts from a Catholic charity.
Aid workers say the situation is emotional. Pope Francis has made the defense of migrants and refugees a cornerstone of the papacy, and has prepared to transport 50 migrants to Italy after his visit this week.
The pope plans to perform an ecumenical prayer with immigrants at the Basilica of the Holy Cross on December 3, after holding a morning mass in an outdoor stadium in Nicosia.
“I am also thinking of those who, in these last years and today, fleeing wars and poverty, arriving on the coasts of the continent and elsewhere, find not hospitality, but hostility and exploitation,” the Pope said in a video message recorded prior to his visit. They are our brothers and sisters.”
“We are currently facing huge numbers of migrants, asylum seekers and refugees who are in Cyprus right now,” said Elizabeth Cassinis, executive director of Caritas Cyprus, part of a global network of Catholic aid and relief organizations.
The association, which provides assistance from clerical work to clothing and food packages, supports up to 400 people per day, compared to 150 to 200 people per day in the past, she said.
Father Jerzy George Cragg, Latin Patriarchal Vicar and Attache of the Apostolic Embassy in Nicosia, said that the ecumenical prayer with Pope Francis in the Church of the Holy Cross will be held with representatives of the Christian communities in Cyprus.
He continued, “This is what unites us. We not only give sermons, but also do charitable works.”