NICOSIA, Cyprus, MAR. 27, 2001 (Zenit.org).- Anti-Catholic Orthodox clerics were told to tone down their opposition to the government´s formal invitation to John Paul II to visit the island, to retrace the Apostle Paul´s footsteps, Agence France-Presse reported.
“Our advice to some clerics is that they choose their words very carefully,” government spokesman Michalis Papapetrou said during a Monday press briefing.
Papapetrou was responding to Sunday´s inflammatory remarks by Bishop Pavlos of Kyrenia, when he addressed a congregation to mark Greek independence.
Bishop Pavlos told the faithful that the Catholic Church was responsible for the Ottoman sacking of Constantinople in 1453. The attack marked the end of the Byzantine Empire and Christian hegemony, which was replaced by Muslim Turkish rule.
The bishop´s interpretation of events alarmed the government, which is seeking to win friends and influence people to help secure European Union membership by 2003.
“We are battling to join the European Union, where the majority of members are Catholic, so it is understandable that the last thing we want to do is to open a new front against the Catholics,” Papapetrou said.
The spokesman pointed out that the island´s first president, Archbishop Makarios, made a deliberate request to visit the Vatican on a state visit to Italy in the 1960s. “The late Archbishop Makarios fended off such extreme views when meeting the Pope at the Vatican,” the spokesman said.
Cypriot President Glafcos Clerides sent the official invitation to John Paul II following Foreign Ministry consultations with the Vatican and, more significantly, the blessing of Archbishop Chrysostomos.
The Pope´s visit would demonstrate how well the island´s Maronite and Latin minority communities live in harmony with Orthodox Cypriots, Clerides said.
This has not pleased some members of the Orthodox Church, who argue that the archbishop´s consent was given without first consulting the Holy Synod, the Church´s highest decision-making body.
Cypriot Foreign Minister Yiannakis Cassoulides reached an understanding with the Vatican that the invitation extended will be valid only for the government-controlled south and not the Turkish-occupied north. The ancient kingdom of Salamis, where St. Paul first preached the Gospel in Cyprus, is located in the north, and is excluded from the Pope´s possible itinerary.
Cyprus has been divided since 1974, when Turkey invaded after a Greek junta-orchestrated coup to oust the then president, Archbishop Makarios.
Archbishop Chrysostomos said he would not raise the issue at the synod, ostensibly to avoid any dogmatic wrangling which could jeopardize the visit.
The Greek Orthodox have been at odds with their Catholic brethren over dogma since the Great Schism of 1054.
The visit will most likely take place around May, when the Pontiff is expected to go to Greece. However, the papal trip to Cyprus has not been confirmed by the Vatican. An official statement announced Monday that John Paul II will arrive in Athens on May 4, where he will stay for 24 hours. He will then travel to Damascus, Syria, and arrive in Malta on May 8, where he will spend a day.
Cyprus was St. Paul´s first stop in his mission to spread Christianity outside Palestine. He is said to have converted the island´s Roman governor, Sergius Paulus, in the southwestern coastal town of Paphos, where it is believed he received 39 lashes for his efforts. “St. Paul´s Pillar” in Paphos still stands as a place of pilgrimage.