Cyprus: the Pope’s visit in the Holy Land

Giacomo Pizzi17 May 2010

Pope Benedict XVI will visit Cyprus from the 4th to the 6th of June

In 1219 the boat carrying Francis of Assisi towards Damietta (Egypt) reached the coast of the island of Cyprus, that the Pope will soon visit. Legend has is that he left two friars on the island of Cyprus. In a country with an overwhelming Orthodox majority the ecumenical nature of the Pope’s visit will be one of its most eagerly anticipated aspects. The Pope was invited by President Dimitri Christofias and by the Orthodox Archbishop of Cyprus, Chryosostomos II to visit the Holy Land of Cyprus.

Today the Catholic minority in Cyprus consists of ten thousand believers from the Maronite Church and about thirty thousand Latin faithful. Of these, only a thousand are native Cypriots; the remainder is made up of foreigners who have moved to Cyprus. Some are European while many are temporary immigrant workers, notably from the Philippines, Sri Lanka and India but also from Cameroon, Nigeria, Bangladesh and Pakistan.

Latins in Cyprus are under the pastoral authority of the Latin patriarch in Jerusalem. His Vicar here is a Friar Minor, Father Umberto Barato, who is also commissioned by the Papal Nuncio who resides in Jerusalem.

Franciscans, who also perform a secular role in Cyprus, are responsible for three of the four Latin parishes on the island (Nicosia, Larnaca and Limassol) which are preparing for the Pope’s visit to the Holy Land of Cyprus in various ways. Prayer is the most important of these ways to prepare to the visit of the Pope to the Holy Land of Cyprus: at the end of every Eucharistic ceremony and during the daily hour of Eucharistic worship a prayer is made for the Pope. Organisational efforts are also being made for the visit of the Pope to the Holy Land of Cyprus. A central committee which coordinates ten delegations has also been set up to prepare for the Pope’s visit to the Holy Land of Cyprus.

“I feel the need to give our faithful accurate information about the figure of the Pope within the Catholic Church”, explains Father Barato, “the theological implications of his ministry and also the differences that exist between our Church and the Orthodox Church regarding his role”.

It must not be forgotten that Benedict XVI, the first Pope to ever come to the island of Cyprus, which is Holy Land to the Christians, is visiting a country divided in two by an invisible but very real wall which separates the Republic of Cyprus (which since the 1st of May 2004 has been part of the European Union) from the northern zone of the island of Cyprus which has been in the hands of Turkey since the military intervention of 1974.

The age-old and difficult Cypriot problem has affected the immense Christian cultural patrimony in the occupied northern zone of Cyprus with hundreds of churches desecrated or destroyed.

But Cyprus was also the land of the Apostles, which makes it Holy Land to the Christians. Paul came here on his first missionary expedition accompanied by Barnaba, a native of the island of Cyprus. The two men landed at Salamina and, after crossing the island of Cyprus, reached Paphos. The latter city, along with the capital Nicosia, will be the two stops on Pope Benedict’s tour in the footsteps of Paul on the Holy Land of Cyprus.

In addition to their great pastoral commitment and responsibility for the preparation of the sacraments, the Franciscan friars of the Custody of the Holy Land are particularly active in providing a Christian education to young people in schools as well as professional training for immigrants and social care for the poorest people and the elderly. Various activities are organised in collaboration with the Franciscan Nuns of the Sacred Heart.

Input by Stefania Sboarina – Franciscan Media Center