Pope calls for peace and reconciliation in divided Cyprus
Pope Benedict XVI called the church of Cyprus a “bridge between east and west” recently and pushed for reconciliation and peace in that country.
The Pope is in Cyprus for a three-day visit to address the Christian presence in the Middle East, and to release the working document for an October meeting of the Synod of Bishops dedicated to the Middle East, CatholicCulture.org reported.
However in a meeting, Cypriot president Demetris Christofias told Benedict, “It is …disturbing that for 36 years our cultural and religious heritage in the occupied areas is being destroyed,” referring to the portion of the island that falls under Turkish control, Reuters reported.
St. Paul and St. Barnabas preached in this Mediterranean island 2,000 years ago.
However, it has been split between its Greek and Turkish populations since 1974, when Turkey invaded its north after a brief Greek-inspired coup, Reuters said.
Benedict is only visiting the south of the island, which is run by Cyprus’ internationally recognized Greek Cypriot government.
He is staying at a Franciscan monastery in the buffer zone, no-man’s-land splitting Cyprus east to west and patrolled by United Nations troops, Reuters said.
Although the pope has largely skirted the issue of Cyprus’ division and says his visit is not political, he did frequently talk about reconciliation and peace, CatholicCulture.org said.
At an ecumenical service in the church of Agia Kiriaki Chrysopolitissa, Benedict, in a nod to archbishop Chrysostomos, who strongly supports ecumenical ventures, said CatholicCulture.org.
Benedict also called for “… a society distinguished by respect for the rights of all, including the inalienable rights to freedom of conscience and freedom of worship,” Reuters reported.
Turkey is currently in a bid to join the EU, where Greek Cypriots represent the island in the bloc and have the power to veto Turkish entry. Cyprus’ Greek Cypriots are predominantly Greek Orthodox, Reuters says.
The Cypriot government and church have repeatedly highlighted the “systematic desecration of churches in northern Cyprus,” saying that more than 500 churches and monuments have been destroyed since 1974, Reuters said.
Turkish Cypriot authorities acknowledged some damage but claim in turn that Muslim places of worship are being desecrated in the south.
They also said they were trying to restore and maintain churches, Reuters said.
On a visit to a museum Benedict was shown priceless mosaics from the 6th century that were hacked off the walls of a church in northern Cyprus, then sold on the black market.
The Cypriot Church won them back in a court battle in the United States, Reuters said.
Chrysostomos said Turkey is carrying out “a plan of national destruction” in the north. He said Turkish forces have “turned the Orthodox Christians of Cyprus out of their ancestral homes,” CatholicCulture.org said.
During Chrysostomos’ meeting with Benedict, Muslim calls for prayer from a mosque could clearly be heard in the medieval capital of northern Nicosia, which is also divided, Reuters reported.