Cyprus: Pope Benedict meets Orthodox, Catholic, Muslim leaders

Church of Agia Kiriaki Chrysopolitissa

Church of Agia Kiriaki Chrysopolitissa

Benedict XVI became the first Pope to visit Cyprus yesterday afternoon. On arrival he was welcomed by President Demetris Christofias, accompanied by his wife, together with Archbishop Antonio Franco, apostolic nuncio to Cyprus; Maronite Archbishop Joseph Soueif of Cyprus; His Beatitude Fouad Twal, Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem; Fr Pierbattista Pizzaballa, Custos of the Holy Land, and His Beatitude Chrysostomos II, Orthodox Patriarch of Cyprus.

In a brief address in English, he said:  "Cyprus stands at the crossroads of cultures and religions, of histories both proud and ancient but which still retain a strong and visible impact upon the life of your country", he said. Having recently acceded to the European Union, the Republic of Cyprus is beginning to witness the benefit of closer economic and political ties with other European States. ... It is greatly to be hoped that membership will lead to prosperity at home and that other Europeans in their turn will be enriched by your spiritual and cultural heritage which reflects your historical role, standing between Europe, Asia and Africa. May the love of your homeland and of your families and the desire to live in harmony with your neighbours under the compassionate protection of almighty God, inspire you patiently to resolve the remaining concerns that you share with the international community for the future of your island.

"Following in the footsteps of our common fathers in the faith, Sts. Paul and Barnabas, I have come among you as a pilgrim and the servant of the servants of God", the Pope added. "Since the Apostles brought the Christian message to these shores, Cyprus has been blessed by a resilient Christian heritage. I greet as a brother in that faith His Beatitude Chrysostomos II, archbishop of New Justiniana and All Cyprus, and I look forward shortly to meeting many more members of the Orthodox Church of Cyprus.

"I also look forward to greeting other Cypriot religious leaders. I hope to strengthen our common bonds and to reiterate the need to build up mutual trust and lasting friendship between all those who worship the one God.

"As the Successor of Peter, I come in a special way to greet the Catholics of Cyprus, to confirm them in the faith and to encourage them to be both exemplary Christians and exemplary citizens, and to play a full role in society, to the benefit of both Church and State". The Pope also noted how during his visit he would consign the "Instrumentum laboris" of the forthcoming Special Assembly for the Middle East of the Synod of Bishops, which "will examine many aspects of the Church's presence in the region and the challenges that Catholics face, sometimes in trying circumstances, in living out their communion within the Catholic Church and offering their witness in the service of society and the world.

"Cyprus", he concluded, "is thus an appropriate place in which to launch our Church's reflection on the place of the centuries-old Catholic community in the Middle East, our solidarity with all the Christians of the region and our conviction that they have an irreplaceable role to play in peace and reconciliation among its peoples".

After the address, the Pope moved on to the church of Agia Kiriaki Chrysopolitissa, an Orthodox place of worship also open to Catholics and Anglicans. It was founded in 1987 by His Beatitude Chrysostomos II, archbishop of Cyprus, who was then bishop of Paphos. The church overlooks an archaeological site containing the remains of a fourth-century paleo-Christian basilica and is very near the "Column of St Paul", an object of popular devotion associated with the Apostle of the Gentile's stay on the island.

On arrival the Pope was greeted by the pastor of the Latin community. Following a moment of silent prayer in the church, he then exited by the central doors to greet the faithful gathered in the archaeological site. His Beatitude Chrysostomos II welcomed the Holy Father who, following a reading from the Acts of the Apostles recounting the first visit to Cyprus of Sts Barnabas and Paul, pronounced his address.

From this place, said the Holy Father, "the Gospel message began to spread throughout the empire, and the Church, grounded in the apostolic
preaching, was able to take root throughout the then-known world.

"The Church in Cyprus can rightly be proud of her direct links to the preaching of Paul, Barnabas and Mark, and her communion in the apostolic faith, a communion which links her to all those Churches who preserve that same rule of faith. This is the communion, real yet imperfect, which already unites us, and which impels us to overcome our divisions and to strive for the restoration of that full visible unity which is the Lord's will for all His followers".

"The Church's communion in the apostolic faith is both a gift and a summons to mission", said the Pope. For this reason all Christians must "bear prophetic witness to the risen Lord and to His Gospel of reconciliation, mercy and peace. In this context, the Special Assembly for the Middle East of the Synod of Bishops ... will reflect on the vital role of Christians in the region, encourage them in their witness to the Gospel, and help foster greater dialogue and co-operation between Christians throughout the region. Significantly, the labours of the Synod will be enriched by the presence of fraternal delegates from other Churches and Christian communities in the region, as a sign of our common commitment to the service of God's word and our openness to the power of His reconciling grace.

"The unity of all Christ's disciples is a gift to be implored from the Father in the hope that it will strengthen the witness to the Gospel in today's world", he added. "Just a hundred years ago, at the Edinburgh Missionary Conference, the acute awareness that divisions between Christians were an obstacle to the spread of the Gospel gave birth to the modern ecumenical movement. Today we can be grateful to the Lord, Who through His Spirit has led us, especially in these last decades, to rediscover the rich apostolic heritage shared by East and West, and in patient and sincere dialogue to find ways of drawing closer to one another, overcoming past controversies, and looking to a better future".

The Holy Father went on: "The Church in Cyprus, which serves as a bridge between East and West, has contributed much to this process of reconciliation. The path leading to the goal of full communion will certainly not be without its difficulties, yet the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church of Cyprus are committed to advancing in the way of dialogue and fraternal co-operation.

"May the Holy Spirit enlighten our minds and strengthen our resolve, so that together we can bring the message of salvation to the men and women of our time, who thirst for the truth that brings authentic freedom and salvation, the truth whose name is Jesus Christ", he concluded.

Many bishops from the region have traveled to Cyprus to see Pope Benedict and receive a working paper for the summit that will be made public Sunday.

Pope Benedict has walked a careful diplomatic path since his arrival. Cyprus was ethnically split in 1974 when Turkey invaded after a coup by supporters of union with Greece. Turkish Cypriots declared an independent republic in the north in 1983, but only Turkey recognizes it, and it maintains 35,000 troops there.

Shortly after Benedict's arrival, the Cypriot archbishop launched a harsh attack against Turkey, accusing it of ethnic cleansing and of aiming to take over the entire island. Pope Benedict has not responded directly to the Greek Cypriot leaders. On Saturday, he called for a "just settlement" of outstanding issues.

There were never any plans for the Pope to travel to the Turkish north of the island but the Vatican said Benedict was interested in meeting Muslim representatives. A brief encounter came as the pope was walking in a procession to a Mass at a church near the Green Line separating the two sides. Vatican spokesman Fr Federico Lombardi said Pope Benedict stopped to greet the 88-year-old Sheik Nazim and that the encounter was "short but very nice." He said they both joked about their ages.

"Only by patient work can mutual trust be built, the burden of history overcome, and the political and cultural differences between peoples become a motive to work fore deeper understanding," Benedict said.

Source: VIS

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