Pope to revisit Lesbos on trip to Cyprus, Greece

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Pope Francis in 2016 paid a trip to Moria, the continent's largest migrant camp until it was destroyed by fire last year (AFP/FILIPPO MONTEFORTE, -)

Pope Francis will visit Cyprus and Greece next month and will revisit the island of Lesbos, a major point of entry for migrants into Europe, the Vatican said Friday.

His 35th trip abroad comes just five months after the Argentine pontiff, who turns 85 in December, was hospitalised following surgery on his colon.

"Pope Francis will travel to Cyprus from 2 to 4 December, visiting the city of Nicosia, and to Greece from 4 to 6 December, visiting Athens and the island of Lesbos," spokesman Matteo Bruni said in a brief statement.

Francis has travelled widely since he took office in 2013, and although his schedule was suspended by the coronavirus pandemic, this year he has already made a historic trip to Iraq and visits to the Hungarian capital Budapest and Slovakia.

Migration has been a key theme -- his first trip as pope, in July 2013, was to the Italian island of Lampedusa, the landing point for migrants crossing the Mediterranean from North Africa.

While there, he criticised the "globalisation of indifference" over migrants.

In April 2016, he visited Lesbos, for many years the main entry point into Europe for migrants and asylum-seekers. He paid a trip to Moria, the continent's largest migrant camp until it was destroyed by fire last year.

Josif Printezis, the Catholic archbishop for Greek islands in the Aegean, said earlier this month that the pope in Lesbos in December would "make a humanitarian statement, that the Church and all European peoples care about refugees, and that the weight borne by Greece should be recognised by the other European countries".

After his last visit to Lesbos, Francis returned home with three Syrian families from the camp, who later settled in Italy.

- 'More tired'.

During his visit to the Mediterranean island of Cyprus -- the first by a pope since Benedict XVI in 2010 -- Francis will meet with Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades, the presidency said.

The island has been divided since 1974 between the Greek-speaking, Orthodox Christian-majority Republic of Cyprus and the breakaway Muslim-majority Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, recognised only by Ankara.

UN-brokered negotiations to reunify the island collapsed in 2017.

In addition to the trip next month, several other papal visits are in the works.

The pope said in October he intends to visit Oceania for the first time next year, without specifying where, and also had "in my head" trips to Congo and the rest of Hungary.

Speaking to Argentine news agency Telam, he said he was overdue a trip to Papua New Guinea and East Timor originally planned for 2020.

The pope had expressed hope he could fly to Glasgow for this month's UN talks on climate change, another subject close to his heart, but in the end he sent only a video message.

Despite Francis' busy schedule, there are signs that his age is catching up with him.

On returning from a gruelling three-day trip to Iraq, the pope admitted he "felt a lot more tired" than during other visits.


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