Pope Francis arrived in Cyprus Thursday, where he called on residents to “welcome and integrate one another,” referencing the divisions that the migrant crisis has sowed on the island nation.
The country has said that it is struggling to cope with an influx of migrants, many of whom travel by boat from the Middle East.
Speaking to journalists on the plane from Rome, the Pope said that the visit “will touch some wounds.”
Francis’s advocacy for migrants and refugees is a notable cornerstone of his papacy.
The Pope, who has called the Mediterranean Sea a “great cemetery,” has arranged to have 50 migrants relocated to Italy after his trip this week. The Vatican has not yet confirmed that plan.
Francis will also travel to Greece during his five-day trip, including to Lesbos Island, where thousands of refugees live in squalid conditions in a migrant camp.
At the first stop of his trip, a visit to a Maronite cathedral, the Pope invoked a message of reconciliation and said: “By your spirit of fraternity, you can remind everyone, and Europe as a whole, that we need to work together to build a future worthy of humanity, to overcome divisions, to break down walls, to dream and work for unity.”
“We need to welcome and integrate one another, and to walk together as brothers and sisters, all of us,” he said.
There are some 8,000 Maronites on the island who are members of the Catholic faith. Their descendants started settling on Cyprus from the 8th century onwards.
The Pope also called on the European continent to find a way to move forward, saying it needs “reconciliation and unity.”
“For it will not be the walls of fear and the vetoes dictated by nationalist interests that ensure its progress, nor will economic recovery alone serve to guarantee its security and stability.”
The Pope will be staying at the Vatican embassy in Cyprus’ capital Nicosia, which sits right on the dividing line that resulted from a Turkish invasion that was triggered by a 1974 coup sponsored by the military junta that controlled Greece at the time.
A church in the compound that houses the embassy still bears scars from the crossfire.
The northern part of the island, including a section of its capital, is controlled by a Turkish Cypriot administration recognized only by Turkey as an independent state.
Francis, who shuns large, bulletproof cars, traveled in a small black Fiat 500 with open windows. He was greeted with cheers and applause as the vehicle navigated the capital’s narrow streets.