Nuncio Notes 3 Dimensions of Pope's Cyprus Trip

Underlines Importance of Christian Presence

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By Michaela Koller
NICOSIA, Cyprus, JUNE 4, 2010 ( There are three dimensions to Benedict XVI’s visit to Cyprus, which began today, says the apostolic nuncio to that country: evangelization, pastoral care and ecumenism.

Archbishop Antonio Franco explained this in a conversation with ZENIT in Nicosia, amid the preparations taking place immediately before the Pope landed in the country.

The narrow and square spire of the Catholic Church of the Holy Cross in Nicosia, the capital of Cyprus, rises above the roofs of the neighboring buildings. It presents a visible sign of the Catholic presence in the Orthodox environment.

This church is built with the same yellow stone that is dominant in Jerusalem. It is no coincidence, explain the priests of this Franciscan parish, which belongs to the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem.

On Saturday, Benedict XVI will celebrate Mass in this church with the participation of priests, religious, deacons, catechists and representatives of ecclesial movements in Cyprus.

On the road that leads to the church, a jeep suddenly appears filled with fresh potted flowers to be placed at the building’s entrance. The last preparations are being carried out hastily.

Inside the church is an interior with golden splendor. Most striking are the small details. A worker fastens the red carpet, measures it, cuts and glues it; a fellow worker installs a last fan on the wall. On the left side of the altar is a chair still wrapped in cardboard, with only the wooden legs visible painted in gold, making its function: From here, the Successor of Peter will address the small Catholic community of Cyprus.

Meanwhile, Father Pierbattista Pizzaballa, who supervised preparations for the Papal trip to the Holy Land, is in front, arranging other details. In the back is a woman with Asian features kneeling in prayer.

Catholic community

There are only about 3,000 Catholic [Latin rite] faithful in total living in the Mediterranean island, Archbishop Franco estimated. ZENIT spoke with the prelate close to the nunciature, located at Holy Cross Church.

The nuncio is not in the nunciature every day, as he is also responsible for Israel, Jerusalem and the Palestinian Territories, and in general resides in Jaffa, Israel. Among the Catholics, he says, there are people from many different countries.

There are «a considerable number of Cameroonians here,» the archbishop noted. «If you come here on a Sunday, you will find it full of people from the Philippines and Cameroon.»

He noted that the Maronite community united to Rome is much larger — the data varies between 5,000 and 7,000 members. This community will not participate in the Mass at Holy Cross Church, but will meet with the Pontiff on two other occasions.

Archbishop Franco explained to ZENIT that «there are three dimensions in this trip.»

«Cyprus is one of the key places in the history of Christianity,» he said, noting that John Paul II also planned a stay in Cyprus, which never materialized.

St. Paul landed on the island on his first missionary voyage, and by his work, the Roman proconsul, Sergius Paulus, was converted, making Cyprus the first Christian-ruled country.

The nuncio noted that there is also a pastoral aspect that brings the Pontiff to Cyprus, an island in the southeast of the Mediterranean. He noted that the Holy Father is coming to reach out to Catholics, but also to the Middle East region, a region in crisis yet important in the history of Christianity.

Thus, on Sunday, Benedict XVI will present the instrumentum laboris for the Special Assembly for the Middle East of the Synod of Bishops at a Mass in Nicosia’s Elefteria Sports Palace.


«And there is also an ecumenical dimension,» continued the nuncio. «The Orthodox Church of Cyprus is an important Church in the ecumenical dialogue and, traditionally, it has been very close to the Catholic Church.»

In fact, in 2007, Benedict XVI met with the head of the Cypriot Orthodox Church, Archbishop Chrysostom II, and they wrote a joint declaration. They affirmed: «In the happy circumstance of our fraternal meeting at the tombs of St. Peter and St. Paul, the spokesmen of the Apostles, as the liturgical tradition indicates, we wish to state in joint agreement our sincere and firm desire, in obedience to the will of our Lord Jesus Christ, to intensify the search for full unity among all Christians, making all possible efforts which we consider useful for the life of our communities.»

Now, in this apostolic trip, it is precisely in the memory of St. Paul and in the spirit of evangelization that the nuncio sees a bond between the two Churches. «Yes, the three dimensions are connected to one another,» he said.

The prelate spoke about the ecumenical ceremony planned for the beginning of the visit, in the archeological site of the church of Agia Kyriaki Chrysopolitissa in Paphos, where St. Paul’s famous pillar is. «There, the Apostle to the Gentiles was once scourged, according to tradition,» Archbishop Franco stated. «In the light of the challenges of evangelization, which both [Churches] have in common, this event, in fact, is symbolic.»

Catholics particularly in Cyprus are worried about their future, he added, explaining that «many parishes and monasteries in the northern part, whether Catholic or Orthodox, suffer from the situation of occupation.»

For the Maronite community in particular, the Church of Ayia Marina is out of their reach because it is in the area restricted by the Turkish military.

«This is one of the wounds that makes our world continue to bleed,» the prelate said. He noted that the Holy See will continue to promote more respect for these places and personalities, signs of the presence and patrimony of Christians in Cyprus.

The nuncio sent a message to Christians throughout the region: «What mission do you have here in general, and what must we do to carry it out?»

He concluded, «This presence is significant in the place where Christianity was born.»

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