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Rome Reports

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Pope Francis: Migrant camps near Europe are like Stalin's and Nazi concentration camps

A choir of migrants from different countries opened the Pope's final event in Cyprus, with the hymn, “Canticle of the Sun.”

The meeting took place in the Catholic Church of the Holy Cross, inside the ancient walls of the city of Nicosia.

Cyprus currently receives more asylum seekers per capita than any other European Union country. About 99 percent of people who receive aid from Caritas Cyprus are migrants. In 2020, Caritas Cyprus served over 3,800 families from 66 different countries.

Pope Francis listened attentively to the testimonies of four young migrants, from Sri Lanka, Cameroon, Iraq and the Democratic Republic of Congo. They shared the pain of so often being reduced to labels like “foreigner” or “migrant.”

-"I am someone wounded by hate. Hate, once experienced, cannot be forgotten. I am someone pained by the lack of love that makes me feel less than others, unwanted, a burden."

They also shared their hopes and dreams for a place where they can build a future in peace and without being treated like outcasts.

-"I dream of being welcome everywhere—here in church, in every classroom and shop. I dream of people being interested in me, not suspicious."

The Pope greeted the four speakers one by one, giving each of them a small gift.

Then he responded to their testimonies, saying that they are not numbers to be catalogued, but brothers and sisters.

" When the interests of groups, or political interests, even national interests, lead... many of us are left, in part, and without wishing it, slaves. Because interests always enslave, they always create slaves. Love which is great, which is the opposite of hate—love makes us free."

When he finished reading his prepared speech, the Pope continued speaking off-script, saying that there are migrants along the coasts in countries neighboring Europe living in places comparable to the concentration camps of the 20th century.

" We read stories of the concentration camps from the last century, those of the Nazis, Stalin's, and we complain when we see... 'But how could this have happened?' But brothers and sisters, it's happening today, on the coasts nearby, bridges of slavery."

It's the reality in places like Libya, a crossroads for many refugees trying to reach Europe. There they live in inhumane conditions, in camps, where many are subjected to abuse and torture.

After the Pope's speech, he invited those gathered to pray an Our Father together.

After the Pope's final blessing, he was given an icon of St. Barnabas, Patron of the island of Cyprus.

Then he greeted a number of migrants present at the ecumenical prayer service. Some of them will be among the 12 who will be taken to Italy before Christmas, as part of a humanitarian initiative organized by the Vatican, the Italian and Cypriot governments and the Community of Sant'Egidio. The project will move a total of 50 migrants by March of 2022.