The papal trip to Cyprus and Greece (December 2-6, 2021) showed Francis’ attention to the Mediterranean, which was also the focus of his first trip (Lampedusa in July 2013), but also his attention to Eastern Orthodoxy as a traveling companion to a Catholic Church increasingly subject to identitarian and nationalist tensions in Europe and worldwide.
There were different and interrelated dimensions to this trip. There was the ecumenical dimension, with the privileged attention to the Eastern Orthodox churches in continuity with the key partnership (since 2013) between Francis and the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, His All Holiness Patriarch Bartholomew. There was the humanitarian dimension, with the Holy See devoting much energy to raising attention on multiple crises on multiple fronts in the area, adding to the long-standing migration from Africa to Europe. In the last decade, the degradation of the security, social-economic, and environmental situation in many countries facing the western, central, and eastern Mediterranean has made the mare nostrum the bottleneck in the flow of human beings fleeing from wars and failed or semi-failed states in Africa, the Middle East, and Central Asia. There was the political dimension, with Francis as the outspoken opponent of nationalisms and populism now coming to Greece, the birthplace of democracy (albeit not liberal and constitutional democracy), calling Europe and the international community to their moral responsibilities. Far in the background, there was finally the ecclesial, intra-Catholic dimension, which for Francis must refer always to what Catholics do ad extra.
Pope Francis’ trip to Egypt (April 28-29, 2017) has been one of the most important and difficult for this pontificate, given the international political situation and the plight of Coptic Christians in Egypt and of all Christians between Africa and the Middle East. It is not easy to look at this trip through one single interpretive lens, and therefore it requires the attempt to read it in the context of the pontificate.
A first level was the trip of Francis as expression of the modern magisterium of the pope of the Catholic Church on the relationship between religion as defensor of human rights and political rights in an age of evident crisis of faith not only in God, but also in our fellow human beings – the crisis of democracy. Interestingly, in his speech to the strongman of Egypt, general Al Sisi, and to the political authorities, Francis quoted from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948 but also from the Egyptian Constitution of 2014, delivering a blunt reminder to Egyptian political authorities: “It is our duty to proclaim together that history does not forgive those who preach justice, but then practice injustice.” Francis walked a very fine line between the need to avoid the impression of a papal blessing of the post-Islamist regime of Al Sisi in Egypt, more friendly to Christians than the brief period of Morsi on one side, and on the other side the need not to be silent before the disturbing record of the present regime in terms of the respect of democratic rights and of freedom. Continue Reading…