The Pope launched a message of unity in Nicosia, capital of Cyprus, the first leg of his third international trip this year, a city divided since the 1974 Turkish invasion by a 180-kilometer wall, the so-called Green Line, which it separates the Turkish Republic from Northern Cyprus, recognized only by Turkey, and the Republic of Cyprus.
“There are not and should not be walls in the Catholic Church, it is a common home, it is the place of relationships, it is the coexistence of diversity”, said the Supreme Pontiff in the first act of his agenda in this country in a meeting with priests, men and women religious in the Maronite Cathedral of Our Lady of Graces.
Cyprus is the European country with the most asylum seekers in relation to its population. For this reason, he argued that the local Church with its gestures of fraternity can “remind everyone, all of Europe, that to build a future worthy of man it is necessary to work together, overcome divisions, tear down walls and cultivate the dream of unity. ”.
The Pope made it clear that the fraternity in the Church also involves “discussing different visions, sensitivities and ideas” but urged “saying things to one’s face with sincerity.” While he insisted that “It is not discussed to wage war, to impose itself, but to express and live the vitality of the Spirit, which is love and communion.”
Thus, he stressed that in Cyprus there are many spiritual and ecclesial sensibilities, various origin histories, different rites and traditions, but he urged not “Feel diversity as a threat against identity”.
“The temptation of fear, which generates distrust and mistrust leads to suspicion and, sooner or later, leads to war”, he stated.
In 1974, the Turkish military intervention occupied 40% of the island. In 1983, the area controlled by Turkey proclaimed itself the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, but it is only recognized by Turkey. Since January 2002, the United Nations has promoted a negotiation process between the two parts of the island to overcome the division.
Most Catholics in Cyprus come from Lebanon, which is why the Pope indicated that when he thinks of this country feels “a lot of concern about the crisis in which it finds itself” and note the suffering of a people tired and tested by violence and pain. “I bring to my prayer the desire for peace that rises from the heart of that country.”
He also stressed that Cyprus is “a multi-colored people, a true meeting place between different ethnic groups and cultures”, while wishing that the Church also be “universal” and a “Open space in which all are welcomed and reached by God’s mercy and his invitation to love.”
“The Church in Cyprus has these open arms: it welcomes, integrates and accompanies. It is an important message also for the Church throughout Europe, marked by the crisis of faith. It is no use being impulsive and aggressive, nostalgic or complaining, it is better to continue reading the signs of the times and also the signs of the crisis. It is necessary to begin again and proclaim the Gospel with patience, especially to the new generations ”, the Pope warned.
Arriving by car at the Cathedral of Nicosia, Francis was received by the Patriarch of Antioch of the Maronite Catholics, Cardinal Béchara Boutros Raï. Before entering, he prayed briefly before an image of the Virgin Mary and blessed the people who waited for him at the entrance. In his first speech on the trip, he stressed that it is necessary for the Church to be “patient” and not be “disturbed and bewildered by changes.”
After this meeting, the Pope met with the President of Cyprus and the diplomatic corps accredited in the country and in a speech called for dialogue in the country to reconcile and heal the “terrible laceration that has suffered in recent decades.” He also called for greater involvement of the international community.
“We have to help each other to believe in the patient and humble power of dialogue, which we can extract from the Beatitudes. We know that it is not an easy path; It is long and tortuous, but there are no alternatives to reach reconciliation. Let us nourish hope with the power of gestures instead of putting hope in gestures of power, ”said the Pontiff.
In this way, Francisco addressed the division on the island, which he has called a “terrible laceration” and the slow peace process with Turkey – which he has not specifically referred to. Thus, he urged to put aside “gestures of power, threats of revenge and demonstrations of force” and instead put into practice “gestures of relaxation.” And in particular, He called for “starting a frank debate” that puts the demands of the population first.
Along the same lines, he called for “an increasingly active involvement of the International Community, the safeguarding of religious and cultural heritage and the restitution of what is most loved by the people in this sense, such as places or at least sacred objects” .
The Turkish military occupation of almost five decades ago hit the whole Maronite Catholic Church, which has been largely divided. Many Catholic Maronite families living in their homes in the north were forced to flee and rebuild their lives in the south and they have not been able to recover their properties. The Pope endorsed “the inner suffering of those who cannot return to their homes and places of worship.”
Both the Maronite and Latin communities are recognized by the Constitution of Cyprus and by the Turks as a community with its own identity, added to the Greeks, but without being part of the Greek ethnic group. Nevertheless, Catholic Maronite communities have trouble accessing their properties on the Turkish side.
In any case, the Pope asserted that it is important to “protect and promote each component of society, especially those who are statistically a minority.” “I am also thinking of several Catholic entities that would benefit from timely institutional recognition, so that the contribution they make to society through their activities, particularly educational and charitable, is adequately defined from a legal point of view.”
Francis returned to Cyprus after the visit that Benedict XVI made ten years ago to launch a message of “peace for the whole island”: “The path of peace, which heals conflicts and regenerates the beauty of brotherhood, is marked by one word: dialogue ”.
(With information from Europa Press)
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