In Cyprus, Pope’s Plea for Migrants Clashes With Island’s Tensions

But then, putting aside his speech, he spoke in unusually blunt terms. “We cannot keep quiet” about a “culture of indifference,” Francis said. He looked at the pews, filled with men and women from Africa and the Middle East, some holding crying babies. “Looking at you, I see the faces of suffering” he said, calling their plight “the story of a slavery, a universal slavery.”

Speaking with building emotion, he listed the terrible conditions many migrants endure to get to Europe. Some were pushed back after spending their savings, and captured in migrant centers that he likened to “concentration camps, real concentration camps” where women are sold and men are tortured.

He said that people who read about the Nazi death camps and Stalin’s gulag ask “how could this happen?”

“Brothers and sisters, it is happening now, in the neighboring coasts,” he added.

Those who were not captured, he said, crossed a Mediterranean Sea that “has become a great cemetery.”

“The worst is that we are getting used to this,” he said with exasperation. “To get used to it is a grave disease, very grave, and there is no antibiotic to this disease.”

He added, “It’s my responsibility to help open eyes.”

Cyprus’s asylum seekers and migrants account for nearly 4 percent of the population, a primacy Francis has tried to cast as a gift, but which the Greek Cypriot government clearly considers a burden. In 2020, the country’s interior minister, Nicos Nouris lamented that percentage, the highest in Europe per capita, in a cabinet meeting and implored the European Commission to come to its aid.

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