NICOSIA, Cyprus, MAY 27, 2010 (Zenit.org).- Benedict XVI’s upcoming June 4-6 visit to Cyprus is anticipated by Catholics as a “huge event,” said a priest of that country.
Father Umberto Barato told H2O News, “For us, as Catholic Cypriots, this is a huge event.”
The priest, who is from Nicosia, added, “We feel that we — 5,000-6,000 people on an island — are not lost.”
H2O News spoke with Father Barato at the Franciscan-run Holy Cross Catholic Church near the Paphos Gate in Nicosia. The community includes some 50 nationalities: Filipinos, Indians, Singhalese, Europeans, and others that have immigrated to the island.
Father Barato noted, “I hope that immigration continues, not only because it means that we have faithful in the churches, but also because these people influence the Cypriot society.”
“It is a beneficial influence made up of positive elements that should be introduced into the Cypriot tradition,” he added.
Benedict XVI will celebrate a Mass at Holy Cross Church on June 5, with the participation of priests, religious, deacons, catechists and ecclesial movement directors from Cyprus.
The Pontiff will also stay at the Franciscan convent next to the church during his visit to that country.
The apostolic visit comes as Cyprus continues to struggle with Turkey over the northern section of the island.
There have long been tensions between the Greek Cypriot majority and Turkish Cypriot minority; since 1974, the latter has controlled a third of the island. In 1983, the Turkish Cypriot-occupied area declared itself the “Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus,” but only Turkey recognizes this.
In recent years, the United Nations has encouraged the island to renew unification efforts. But little progress has been made and the conflict is one of the reasons keeping Turkey out of the European Union.
The capital city of Nicosia is currently split between the Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot communities.
The buildings of the Franciscans are located in a United Nations buffer zone, a cease fire line that was established in 1964 to divide the two conflicting communities.
Another priest, Father Martin Zavaleta, stated, “All this area was abandoned for several years.”
He continued: “A few years ago, people began to live in this area, but they cannot go past here, the roads are blocked.
“Some years ago, certain Christians from the Turkish section — Turkish Christians — would pass over; they would come and participate in the Eucharistic.
“Now, however, they no longer participate in our celebrations,” Father Zavaleta added.
Father Barato noted that he feels the Holy Father’s support of Cyprus even on a political level. He affirmed, “I think that this will ‘move’ the discussion about current issues in terms of liberation from the Turks.”