By Gabriela Maria Mihlig
ROME, OCT. 20, 2010 (Zenit.org).- Archbishop Youssef Soueif is working as special secretary at the synod of bishops on the Middle East. But the archbishop is also contributing his message as a representative of an island nation that has a particular role in promoting peace.
Archbishop Soueif is the archbishop of Cyprus for the Maronites. The 48-year-old prelate has been a bishop for less than two years.
In this interview, he explains both his work at the synod, and the contribution the Maronites of Cyprus can make to promoting the Gospel message.
Q: Your Excellency, His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI came to Cyprus this year in a particular mission. Could you please outline the role of the Maronite Church in Cyprus?
Archbishop Soueif: In June 2010 we had a wonderful experience of welcoming His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI for three historical and highly grace-filled days!
We as the Catholic Church in Cyprus, formed by Maronites and Latins, and also the Orthodox Church of Cyprus, headed by His Beatitude Archbishop Chrysostomos II, as head of the Orthodox Synod of Cyprus and on a personal level, warmly welcomed His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI. Together with the government of Cyprus, [and] President Dimitris Christofias. All of us with all the communities of Cyprus, we lived this historical event on this island.
On the national, social, ecclesiastical and spiritual level the visit was a success.
Concerning the Maronites of Cyprus our existence is not new. We have lived on the island since approximately 1,200 years [ago] and […] we are contributing to this multi-cultural society of Cyprus, offering to the larger society our patrimony, our tradition, and our ecclesiastical, spiritual and human experiences for the benefit of the whole country.
In itself Cyprus, a member of the European Community, is like a bridge between the Middle East and Europe. It is Europe in the sense that Cyprus is a full member of the European Community. Its place and its role in geo-social life help so much to be a bridge; it means to be a space of meetings, unity and reconciliation of cultural dimensions between East and West. In this dimension our Maronite archdiocese has its role and its mission.
We should mention here a very symbolic fact: His Holiness — during his visit in June 2010 — presented the document of the “Instrumentum Laboris” to Catholic patriarchs of the Eastern Catholic Churches and to the heads of the Catholic episcopal conferences of the Middle East.
Q: What is your task as archbishop of Cyprus in the synod on the Middle East?
Archbishop Soueif: I was appointed special secretary of the synod for the Middle East by His Holiness in April 2010. So I am part of the presidency of the synod and, of course, the role of the special secretary in general is to directly assist the general reporter of the synod, His Beatitude Antonios Naguib, the Coptic Catholic Patriarch of Alexandria, and to follow the acts of the synod in coordination with the general secretary and the group of experts.
There are basic tasks to be mentioned during the sessions: It is important to follow and to observe and to listen very carefully to what the fathers of the synod are saying and offering through their experiences as pastors of their local Churches and in order to prepare elements for the report of the synod. The most important thing about a synod is what the fathers are saying. In this sense all the preparatory documents of the synod have a role in creating the atmosphere. The most important element is what the Holy Spirit is saying through the bishops during the sessions, and of course the contribution of every father has its own importance, because it is reflecting the experience of the people of God in this or that place.
So in this way the special secretary is accompanying the work of the synod fathers and is helping to formulate proposals by the end of the sessions. Now all this kind of work is assisted by experts and by a big staff of people working in the general secretariat of the synod, because at the end, the result of those fruits will be presented to the general secretary, His Excellency Archbishop Nikola Eterović.
Q: Looking into the text of the “Instrumentum Laboris,” may I raise the question: What is essential for the Church of Cyprus?
Archbishop Soueif: Concerning the experience of Cyprus, we as Maronites — as I mentioned before — have been living in Cyprus since the eighth or ninth century. Our spiritual experience shows and confirms that we are religious people, very attached to the Church. Thank God our people are practicing their faith and we must give attention to the youth concerning the life of faith and concerning spirituality. We in Cyprus — together with our brothers and sisters from all the communities, that is, from the Greek Cypriots, Turkish Cypriots, the Latins and the Armenians — we form the society of Cyprus and we are contributing to keep this multi-cultural society as a real message of conviviality. Of course, we wish to see a solution for the Cyprus problem based on peace, reconciliation, freedom and justice. We wish as Maronites — it means as a small group, but very rich in its history and its culture — to return to our villages.
We believe that all the churches and the monasteries and also the mosques of the island have to be opened to all people. It will be a blessing for reconciliation, forgiveness and love among people. A real and serious faithful reflects what he is living inside himself.
The Christian is called to witness the values of the Gospel and the reality of the resurrection, which means peace, forgiveness, brotherhood, love and respect for every human being in the world.
We encourage all initiatives of working together among Christians and between Christians and non-Christians in different projects: in the educational, social and human fields. Working together helps to strengthen the trust and to renew the friendship among people and among families.