Nuns clean the road in front of the Holy Cross Catholic Church in Nicosia as they prepare to receive Pope Francis Nuns clean the road in front of the Holy Cross Catholic Church in Nicosia as they prepare to receive Pope Francis 

Pope in Cyprus: The touching testimony of a nun

The difficult and sometimes seemingly hopeless situation of workers in precarious employment in Cyprus was highlighted by Sister Perpetua of the Congregation of St Joseph of the Apparition during her meeting with Pope Francis in the Maronite Cathedral in Nicosia on the first day of the Pope’s apostolic visit to the nation. She told Vatican Radio she was deeply touched by the meeting.

By Christine Seuss

Sister Perpetua Loo was one of the two religious who were able to give a testimony to the Pope directly on the first day of his visit to the island, during the meeting with the Catholic community of Cyprus. For a long time, the religious sisters have been helping workers from abroad who are, in some cases, exposed to the violence and arbitrariness of their employers, without legal protection. With her Association, the sister is not only helping with all kinds of legal issues but also very practically, providing free accommodation (especially for the girls that generally average from  5 to 20 in number), in order to allow them to become economically more independent.

Speaking to Vatican Radio, Sr. Perpetua said: "As I told the Holy Father in my testimony, this is a really difficult and hard situation for workers, because of their poor earnings and because of the tensions in their relations with their employers."

Listen to the interview with Sr. Perpetua

Lack of rights for many migrant workers

While this issue does not affect all workers in precarious employment, she explained, it does affect a large proportion of them - and for those affected it is really hard: "They may not have even one day off a week, they are also legally discriminated against - and to lose one's job is to lose one's hope."

The Pope's visit to Cyprus with the motto "Comfort one another in faith" gave a lot of strength and hope not only to her protégés but also to herself, the nun said, with tears of joy in her eyes as she remembered the moments lived in the cathedral.

"I was really overwhelmed... Normally I would have taken pictures of it for everyone, but at that moment I didn't want to, I wanted to live that moment just for me and that presence that really touched me because he is the Vicar of Christ. You don't want to lose a single moment of a moment like that, his presence is so precious and so unique. That was what I felt."


Preparing for the Pope's visit

She had several weeks to prepare her speech for the Pope, Sister Perpetua said, adding that she felt she could really convey something of her work to him: "Because I am the one who does the work in the office, who solves the problems for the workers, problems of all kinds concerning the employment relationship, labor dispute cases, and who helps those who have to file a complaint, for sexual harassment or violence... I also have to seek the truth, because not every complaint is justified…"

Before the coronavirus pandemic, she said she was overwhelmed with cases, and still today deals with seven to eight appointments with employers and employees every day. There was no time for excitement in this tight daily schedule, she continued, also because she was closely involved in preparations for the Pope’s visit. These included – amongst her other office daily duties – cleaning, together with other sisters, the Nunciature and Convent where the Pope was going to stay, making sure all kinds of necessary things were fetched and provided so that the Pope would find all that he needed. But the fuss, she said, took a “back seat” before the big moment, before her intervention in the cathedral, and excitement took over: "I must have sobbed for ten to fifteen minutes in the sacristy, I was left only to abandon myself to the Holy Spirit because I was not sure how I was going to manage to read my text. I usually read well, but I wasn't sure... He is such an important person!" At a certain point of her struggle she cried out loud, she recalled, and felt it was the right moment to be there, to give testimony of her work, and that the Holy Spirit would guide her.

Nuns wait for Pope Francis to arrive at the Maronite Cathedral of Our Lady of Graces in Nicosia
Nuns wait for Pope Francis to arrive at the Maronite Cathedral of Our Lady of Graces in Nicosia

An intense personal experience

Finally, as the start of the ceremony was approaching, she pulled herself together and came out of the sacristy, she recounted, with a tear running down her cheek. And then everything went by itself: she practically knew the whole text by heart, spoke from the heart, and was able to look the Pope in the eye again and again.

"Yes, it was well prepared, but actually it was something that came from my heart. And he was so nice, he looked me in the eye and I could almost say I was proud because I know my work. I don't work to get anything back, and I didn't just read out to celebrate myself, but it came from my heart. And the Pope looked at me, sometimes we made eye contact, and it was so beautiful, so real and authentic..."

She revealed that in the first moments she was very worried when the Pope did not rise immediately to greet her and the other witnesses as planned after her speech and translation: "But then I realized that my speech must have been touching for him too, maybe because it was so true to life, so he was still thinking about it, listening carefully to the translation. I felt that, and that was a really moving moment for me."

Vatican Radio's Christine Seuss interviewing Sr. Perpetua
Vatican Radio's Christine Seuss interviewing Sr. Perpetua


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09 December 2021, 12:36