VATICAN CITY, JUNE 3, 2010 (Zenit.org).- With his visit to Cyprus, which begins Friday, Benedict XVI hopes to promote peace in the Middle East, says a Vatican spokesman.
Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, director of the Vatican press office, affirmed this week in a meeting with journalists that for this reason, the Pope will bless olive branches as a symbol in the welcome and farewell ceremonies.
He added that there will not be any changes in the Pontiff’s apostolic trip, even after Monday’s violent outbreak aboard the “Gaza Freedom Flotilla,” which set sail from the international waters near Cyprus.
Father Lombardi acknowledged: “These are sad and worrying events of the climate breathed in the area, but I don’t think they will have an influence on the trip.
“We know we are going to a problematic area. The Pope knows it and he will see what he has to say.
“He will certainly give a message of peace in a balanced but explicit manner.”
The apostolic trip ends Sunday with a Mass in which the “instrumentum laboris” (working document) for the Synod of Bishops’ Special Assembly for the Middle East, planned for October in Rome, will be presented.
Father Lombardi noted: “It won’t be a long document. Its outline is based on the ‘guidelines’ (lineamenta), enriched by the responses that have arrived from the local Churches that will participate.”
The Holy Father’s trip to the island, where the Apostle Paul traveled on his first apostolic journey, is in response to the invitation of the leader of the Cypriot Orthodox Church, Chrysostom II, a promoter of Christian unity who, when he visited Benedict XVI in the Vatican in June 2007 said: “We want you united with us.”
On Friday, right after he arrives at Paphos International Airport for his 16th international apostolic journey, the Pope’s first appointment will be an ecumenical celebration in the archeological area of the Church of Agia Kyriaki Chrysopolitissa.
Father Lombardi noted that in the area of ecumenical dialogue, leaders of the Orthodox Church are expressing appreciation for the support received by the Catholic Church faced to the international community, in their requests that the churches of the northern region of the island, under Turkish occupation since 1974, would be returned. To date, this request has gone unheard.
The priest affirmed, “There will be a very good reception both on the part of institutions as well as on the part of Archbishop Chrysostom II, a strong and respected pastor.”
“I would not give too much importance to the voices of metropolitans who do not want to take part in the Pontiff’s reception,” he added. “We have heard talk of problems on many occasions, but then we have seen a very different reality.”
Some Orthodox leaders, led by Metropolitan Athanasios of Limassol, have spoken out against the idea of dialogue with the Catholic Church, and against the Pope’s upcoming visit. In fact, last year, several Orthodox worldwide signed a manifesto in which they publicly pledged to resist all ecumenical efforts between their Church and the Catholic Church or any Protestant churches.
“These are protests that do not represent the whole of the Orthodox Church,” Father Lombardi said. “There is no reason for concern.”
The priest noted that this apostolic visit is decisively important for ecumenism, above all “if one takes into account the excellent relations that exist between the Orthodox Church of Cyprus and the Moscow Patriarchate.”
In the Orthodox Archbishopric of Nicosia, the Pope will visit the icon museum and the apartment of Archbishop Makarios III, who was the first president of the Republic of Cyprus after it gained its independence. It is this archbishop who was responsible for establishing the country’s diplomatic relations with the Holy See in 1973.
Father Lombardi noted that the Holy Father’s visit is also meant to give support to the small Catholic community of Cyprus, which counts for 3% of the 870,000 inhabitants (78% being Orthodox).
Among the Catholics, there are several rites: Some are Latin (2.39% of the population) and others are Maronites (0.75%). The Catholic and Apostolic Armenians are 0.3% of the population.
Muslims account for 18% of the population in Cyprus. Father Lombardi revealed to the journalists that there might be “a possible meeting with local Muslims,” but clarified that “it isn’t certain.”
The Pontiff will stay in the apostolic nunciature in the capital city of Nicosia, which is in the U.N. buffer zone, a cease-fire line that was established in 1964 to divide the conflicting Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot communities.
Because of this, Father Lombardi noted, in the nunciature “the Pope’s protection will be entrusted to the troops of the U.N. mission.”