Pope Receives President of Cyprus

Discusses Nation’s Future, Interreligious Dialogue

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VATICAN CITY, MARCH 27, 2009 (Zenit.org).- Benedict XVI discussed the future of Cyprus and the importance of interreligious dialogue upon receiving in audience the nation’s president, Demetris Christofias.

The president was accompanied by his wife, Elsie, and the minister for foreign affairs, Markos Kyprianou. After greeting the Pontiff, the president met with the Pope’s Secretary of State, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone.

«The cordial discussions focused on certain questions concerning the situation in country, and its future,» a communiqué of the Vatican press office reported. «For his part, President Christofias illustrated the condition of many churches and Christian buildings in the north of the island.

«The two sides expressed their mutual hope that the ongoing negotiations between the parties may reach a solution to the longstanding question of Cyprus.»

«Ideas were also exchanged on the international situation regarding, among other things, the continent of Africa,» the noted added.

«Finally,» the note continued, «emphasis was given to the importance of good relations between Catholics and Orthodox and between Catholics and Muslims, who are all called to work together for the good of society and for peaceful coexistence among peoples.»

The Embassy of Cyprus to the Holy See reported earlier this week that the visit takes place during the negotiations being carried out since early 2008, to find a solution to the division of the country. It noted that the Community of Sant’Egidio has played an important role in this process.  

The president and his entourage had dinner on Friday with Andrea Riccardi, founder of the Sant’Egidio Community, before returning to Cyprus.

A British colony until 1960, Cyprus was divided after its independence between the ethnic Greek and Turkish populations. After a series of clashes between the two communities, in 1974 an attempt to annex the island to Greece prompted Turkey to invade the North of the country. This region later became the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, which is not recognized by the international community.

The country, comprised of approximately 78% Greek Orthodox and 18% Muslims, joined the European Union in 2004.

In recent months, negotiations for a reunification of the island have intensified, and the Catholic Church has had a moderating role. The Orthodox archbishop of Cyprus, Chrysostom II, announced last December his wish to come to Rome to ask Benedict XVI his help in solving the country’s problem.

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