During his general audience on June 9, Pope Benedict XVI reflected on his June 4-6 pastoral visit to Cyprus. Following in the footsteps of Sts. Paul and Barnabas, who first brought the Gospel to the island, the Holy Father traveled to Cyprus to encourage the small but lively Catholic community there.
During his visit, Pope Benedict XVI went to Paphos and Nicosia and had extensive contact not only with the Catholic community in Cyprus, but also with the local Orthodox community as well as other Christian groups on the island. He took advantage of his visit to highlight the upcoming Synod Assembly of Bishops in October, which will focus on the needs of the Church in the Middle East.
Dear brothers and sisters,
Today, I would like to share some reflections on my apostolic trip to Cyprus, which was in many respects a continuation of my previous trips to the Holy Land and Malta. I am grateful to the Lord that this pastoral visit went so well and that its goals were attained.
The trip in itself was a historic event. In fact, it was the first time that a bishop of Rome has visited that land, which was blessed by the apostolic work of St. Paul and St. Barnabas and which has traditionally been considered a part of the Holy Land.
Following in the footsteps of the Apostle to the Gentiles, I, too, was a pilgrim of the Gospel, especially to strengthen the faith of the Catholic community, which is a small but active minority on the island, while encouraging them at the same time to push ahead on the journey towards full unity among Christians, especially with their Orthodox brothers and sisters. It was also my intention to embrace all the peoples of the Middle East in order to bless them in the name of the Lord, asking God for the gift of peace.
I received a very cordial welcome everywhere I went, and I would like to take this occasion to express once again my heartfelt gratitude for all their apostolic work, first of all, to the Maronite archbishop of Cyprus, the Most Rev. Joseph Soueif, and to Latin Patriarch Fouad Twal, as well as to all their co-workers.
I also wish to express my heartfelt gratitude to the Holy Synod of the Orthodox Church of Cyprus, especially to His Beatitude Chrysostomos II, the archbishop of New Justiniana and All Cyprus, whom I had the pleasure of greeting with fraternal affection, to the president of Cyprus, to all the civil authorities and to all who, in one way or another, did their utmost to ensure the success of my pastoral visit.
My visit began on June 4 in the ancient city of Paphos, where I was captivated by its ambience, which seems like a synthesis of 2,000 years of Christian history. The archeological finds there are signs of the ancient and glorious spiritual heritage that exercises a strong influence on the life of the country even today.
A very moving ecumenical celebration was held at the Church of Agia Kyriaki Chrysopolitissa, an Orthodox church located within the archaeological site, which is open to Catholics and Anglicans alike. Together with the Orthodox Archbishop Chrysostomos II and representatives of the Armenian, Lutheran and Anglican communities, we renewed together our mutual and irrevocable commitment to ecumenism.
I later expressed this same commitment to His Beatitude Chrysostomos II during a very cordial meeting at his residence, during which I realized how much the Orthodox Church in Cyprus is linked to the destiny of the Cypriot people. They remember with devotion and gratitude Archbishop Macarius III, who is popularly recognized as the father and benefactor of that nation. I, too, wanted to honor him by pausing briefly in prayer before the monument dedicated to him.
Being rooted in tradition is no hindrance to the Orthodox community’s unreserved commitment to ecumenical dialogue, especially with the Catholic community, both of which are driven by their sincere desire to restore full and visible communion between the Churches of the East and West.
On June 5, in Nicosia, the capital of Cyprus, I began the second stage in my trip by visiting the president of Cyprus, who received me warmly. During a meeting with civil authorities and the diplomatic corps, I reiterated the importance of basing positive law on the ethical principles of natural law in order that moral truth guide public life. This was an appeal to reason, based on ethical principles, and replete with demanding consequences for today’s society, which often no longer acknowledges the cultural tradition upon which it is founded.
The Liturgy of the Word that was celebrated at St. Maron Primary School was a highlight of my meeting with the Catholic community in Cyprus — both Maronite and Latin.
I was able to see the apostolic fervor of Cypriot Catholics up close; this is expressed through educational activities and social services, with dozens of organizations at the service of the community that both the governmental authorities and the population at large deeply appreciate.
A Witness of Faith
It was a joyful and festive occasion, thanks to the enthusiasm of so many children and young people. The capacity for memory of the Maronite Church, which this year observes the 1,600th anniversary of the death of her founder, St. Maron, was visible in a very moving way.
In this regard, the presence of Maronite Catholics from the four villages on the island where Christians live in patient suffering was particularly significant. I wanted to show them my paternal understanding of their hopes and trials.
During this celebration, I was also able to admire the apostolic drive of the Latin community, guided with care by the Latin patriarch of Jerusalem and the pastoral zeal of the Holy Land Franciscans, who serve the people with unwavering generosity. Latin-rite Catholics, who are very active in charitable work, give special care to the working class and those most in need.
I assured them all — Latin-rite and Maronite Catholics — that I remember them in my prayers and encouraged them to bear witness to the Gospel by also working patiently for mutual trust between Christians and non-Christians in order to build lasting peace and harmony among peoples.
I reiterated this call for trust and hope during the holy Mass celebrated at the Church of the Holy Cross in the presence of the island’s priests, consecrated persons, deacons, catechists and representatives of lay movements and associations.
Beginning with a reflection on the mystery of the cross, I addressed a heartfelt appeal to all the Catholics in the Middle East not to give in to discouragement and to the temptation to emigrate, despite the great trials and the many difficulties they face, because their presence in the region is an irreplaceable sign of hope.
I assured them — especially the priests and religious — of the entire Church’s heartfelt and intense solidarity and of her incessant prayers that the Lord will help them always to be a dynamic presence for peace.
The Upcoming Synod
Certainly, the high point of the apostolic visit was the presentation of the working document for the Special Assembly on the Middle East of the Synod of Bishops. This took place June 6 at Nicosia’s sports arena at the end of the solemn Eucharistic Celebration, in which the patriarchs and bishops of the various ecclesial communities of the Middle East took part.
The people of God participated wholeheartedly in this celebration “amid loud cries of joy and thanksgiving, with the multitude keeping festival,” as we read in Psalm 42:5.
We experienced this thanks to the presence of so many immigrants who make up a significant part of the island’s Catholic population, in which they have been integrated without difficulty. We prayed together for the repose of the soul of the late Bishop Luigi Padovese, president of the Turkish Bishops’ Conference, whose sudden, tragic death left us saddened and dismayed.
The theme of the synod assembly on the Middle East, which will take place in Rome this October, speaks of communion and openness to hope: “The Catholic Church in the Middle East: Witness and Communion.” Indeed, this important event has been conceived as a gathering of Catholic Christians from the area, in all their different rites, but, at the same time, as a renewal of the quest for dialogue and encouragement for the future.
Thus, it will be accompanied by the heartfelt prayers of the entire Church, in whose heart the Middle East has a special place, because it was there that God made himself known to our fathers in the faith. Special attention will be paid to other players in global society, especially important figures in public life, who are called to work with a consistent commitment to ensure that the region can overcome the sufferings and conflicts which continue to afflict it and finally recover peace through justice.
Before leaving Cyprus, I visited the Maronite Cathedral of Nicosia, where Cardinal Pierre Nasrallah Sfeir, Maronite patriarch of Antioch, was also present.
I renewed the expression of my sincere closeness to and deep understanding of every community of the ancient Maronite Church on the island, to whose shores Maronites have arrived in different periods, often suffering harsh trials in their efforts to remain faithful to their specific Christian tradition, the history and art of which represent a cultural heritage for all mankind.
One Heart, One Spirit
Dear brothers and sisters, I returned to the Vatican with my heart full of gratitude to God and with feelings of sincere affection and esteem for the people of Cyprus, by whom I truly felt welcomed and understood.
In the noble land of Cyprus, I was able to see the apostolic work of the diverse traditions of Christ’s one Church, and I could almost feel the many hearts beating in unison, as the motto of my visit indicates: “One Heart, One Spirit.”
The Catholic community of Cyprus, in its Maronite, Armenian and Latin expressions, has constantly striven throughout the ages to be of one heart and one spirit, both among themselves and in their cordial and constructive relations with their brothers and sisters from the Orthodox Church and from other Christian groups.
May the Cypriot people and the other nations of the Middle East, with their political leaders and the representatives of the various religions, together build a future of peace, friendship and fraternal collaboration!
Let us pray that, through the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Holy Spirit may make this apostolic visit fruitful and inspire the Church’s mission throughout the world — a Church that Christ instituted to proclaim to all peoples the Gospel of truth, love and peace.