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Francis, a pope among the Orthodox


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Pablo Blanco |

Professor at School of Theology and Master's Degree in Christianity and Contemporary Culture at the University of Navarra.

In July 2013, Francis decided to visit the small Italian island of Lampedusa on his first trip outside Rome as Pope. There, on the island of barely five thousand inhabitants, Francis denounced the "globalization of indifference" to their suffering. In April 2016, Francis visited the small Greek island of Lesbos, home to Europe's largest refugee camp. Now, in another gesture, Francis plans to revisit Lesbos, on the framework of his visit to Cyprus and Greece from December 2-6.

But there are more issues on the table. The location may be remote, but it is a place and a concern close to Francis' heart. The pope has repeatedly emphasized building bridges and unity with other Christians and believers of other faiths. Francis' 35th international trip will serve to advance some of the signature themes of his papacy: migration, synodality and ecumenism.

Nicosia is the last physically divided capital of the world. The Apostle Paul made Cyprus the first stop on his travels and converted the island's governor to the Christian faith. Two thousand years later, the island's 1.2 million inhabitants have been caught up in the international conflict over its territory. Cyprus sits at the crossroads of Europe, the Middle East and North Africa, and when Francis arrives on Dec. 2, he will try to address a complicated audience. The Pope will address both the island's minority Catholics and its largely Greek Orthodox population, as well as the immigrant community. And also to those on the other side of the country's Green Line, where Turkish Cypriots live in their own state not recognized by the international community. He will thus talk to everyone.

The meeting between East and West and the ongoing work of ecumenism will continue in Greece. In both countries, Francis will be received by the leaders of the Orthodox Church, giving him the opportunity to deepen the ecumenical relations he has prioritized since his election and to elevate the Structures synodal governance of the Orthodox Church. When John Paul II visited Greece in 2001, mass protests filled Athens with banners branding the Pope "anti-Christ," and there was also a civil service examination to Benedict XVI's visit to Cyprus in 2010. Now, the stage seems to be set for a very different atmosphere for this papal visit .

While it is unlikely that major joint theological statements will be issued during the five-day trip, the occasion provides an opportunity to highlight our common heritage between Orthodox and Catholics, our common faith, and to remind members of both communities that such encounters can and should take place. These visits ensure that the interpretation of faith is not nationalistic and that we can recognize what we have in common. Praying, talking and working together unites a lot, also Christians.

These and other questions related to the challenges of today's world are addressed at Master's Degree in Christianity and Contemporary Culture.