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Thursday, 10 June 2010

Pope Benedict reflects on his Visit to Cyprus

Dear brothers and sisters!

Today I wish to reflect on my apostolic journey to Cyprus, which in many aspects is in continuity with my preceding trips to the Holy Land and Malta. Thanks be to God, this pastoral visit went very well, because happily it achieved its objectives. Already in itself it constituted a historic event; in fact, never before had a Bishop of Rome gone to that blessed land, site of the apostolic work of St. Paul and St. Barnabas, traditionally considered part of the Holy Land.

In the footsteps of the Apostle to the Gentiles I made myself a pilgrim of the Gospel , first of all to strengthen the faith of the Catholic communities, a small but lively minority on the island, encouraging them also to continue on the path toward full Christian unity, especially with our Orthodox brothers. At the same time, I wished ideally to embrace all the Middle Eastern populations, and bless them in the name of the Lord, invoking from God the gift of peace. I experienced a cordial welcome, which was given to me everywhere, and I happily take this opportunity to express again my heartfelt gratitude in the first place to the archbishop of Cyprus of the Maronites, Joseph Soueif, and to His Beatitude Patriarch Fouad Twal, together with their collaborators, renewing to each one my appreciation for their apostolic work. My heartfelt gratitude goes then to the Holy Synod of the Orthodox Church of Cyprus, particularly to His Beatitude Chrysostomos II, Archbishop of Nea Justiniana and All Cyprus, whom I had the joy of embracing with fraternal affection, as well as to t he president of the republic, to all the civil authorities and to all those who in different ways dedicated themselves commendably to the success of my pastoral visit.

It began on June 4 in the ancient city of Paphos, where I felt enveloped by an atmosphere that seemed almost like the perceptible synthesis of 2,000 years of Christian history. The archeological finds present there are the sign of an ancient and glorious spiritual heritage, which still today has a strong impact on the life of the country. A touching ecumenical celebration took place in the Church of St. Kiriaki Chrysopolitiss, a place of Orthodox worship open also to Catholics and Anglicans, located inside the archeological site. With Orthodox Archbishop Chrysostomos II and representatives of the Armenian, Lutheran and Anglican communities, we fraternally renewed our reciprocal and irreversible ecumenical commitment. I manifested such sentiments subsequently to His Beatitude Chrysostomos II in a c ordial meeting at his residence, during which I saw how much the Orthodox Church of Cyprus is tied to the fortunes of that people, keeping a devout and pleasing memory of Archbishop Makarios III, commonly regarded as father and benefactor of the nation, to whom I also wished to render homage pausing briefly at the monument that represents him. This rootedness in tradition does not impede the Orthodox community from being committed decisively to ecumenical dialogue together with the Catholic community, both animated by the sincere desire to restore full and visible communion between the Churches of the East and West.

On June 5, in Nicosia, capital of the island, I began the second stage of the journey by going to visit the president of the republic, who welcomed me with great courtesy. In meeting with the civil authorities and the diplomatic corps, I stressed the importance of founding positive law on the ethical principles of natural law, in order to promote moral t ruth in public life. It was an appeal to reason, based on ethical principles and charged with exacting implications for today's society, which often no longer recognizes the cultural tradition on which it is founded.

The Liturgy of the Word, celebrated in the elementary school of St. Maron, was one of the most thought-provoking moments in the meeting with the Catholic community of Cyprus, in its Maronite and Latin components, and it allowed me to see firsthand the apostolic fervor of Cypriot Catholics.

This is expressed also through educational and charitable activity with dozens of structures, which are placed at the service of everyone and are appreciated by the governing authorities as well as by the whole population. It was a joyful and festive moment, animated by the enthusiasm of numerous children, youth and young people. Not lacking was the aspect of memory, which made perceptible in a moving way the spirit of the Maronite Church, which precis ely this year celebrates the 1,600th anniversary of the death of the founder St. Maron. Particularly significant, in this connection, was the presence of some Maronite Catholics, natives of four villages of the island where Christians are a people who suffer and hope; I wished to manifest to them my paternal understanding of their aspirations and difficulties.

In that same celebration I was able to admire the apostolic commitment of the Latin community, led by the solicitude of the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem and the pastoral zeal of the Friars Minor of the Holy Land, who are at the service of the people with persevering generosity. The Catholics of the Latin rite, very active in the charitable realm, give special attention to workers and the neediest. To all, Latins and Maronites, I assured my remembrance in prayer, encouraging them to witness to the Gospel also through the patient work of reciprocal trust between Christians and non-Christians, to build lasting peace and harmony between peoples.

I wished to repeat the invitation to trust and hope in the course of the Holy Mass, celebrated in the parish of the Holy Cross in the presence of priests, consecrated persons, deacons, catechists and representatives of lay associations and movements of the island. Beginning with reflection on the mystery of the cross, I then addressed a heartbroken appeal to all Catholics of the Middle East so that, despite the great trials and the well known difficulties, they not yield to dejection and the temptation to emigrate, since their presence in the region constitutes an irreplaceable sign of hope. I guaranteed them, especially the priests and religious, the affectionate and intense solidarity of the whole Church, as well as incessant prayer that the Lord will help them to always be a lively and peacemaking presence.

Certainly the culminating moment of the apostolic journey was the presentation of the "instrumentum laboris" of the Special Assembly for the Middle East of the synod of bishops. This ceremony took place on Sunday, June 6, in the Sports Centre of Nicosia, at the end of the solemn Eucharistic celebration, in which patriarchs and bishops of various ecclesial communities of the Middle East took part. The participation of the People of God was unanimous, "with glad shouts and songs of thanksgiving, a multitude keeping festival," as the Psalm says (42:5). We had a concrete experience of this, also thanks to the presence of so many immigrants, who constitute a significant group of the island's Catholic population, where they have integrated without difficulty. We prayed together for the soul of the mourned Bishop Luigi Padovese, president of the Turkish episcopal conference, whose sudden and tragic death has left us saddened and dismayed.

The theme of the synodal assembly for the Middle East, which will take place in Rome this October, speaks of com munion and openness to hope: "The Catholic Church in the Middle East: Communion and Witness." This important event is designed in fact as a gathering of the Catholic community of that area, in its different rites, but at the same time as a renewed search for dialogue and courage for the future. Hence, it will be supported by the prayerful affection of the whole Church, in whose heart the Middle East occupies a special place, inasmuch as it is precisely there that God made himself known to our fathers in the faith. However, attention from other individuals of world society will not be lacking, specifically of protagonists in public life, called to work with constant commitment so that the region will be able to overcome the situations of suffering and conflict that still afflict it and finally rediscover peace in justice.

Before taking leave of Cyprus I wished to visit the Maronite Cathedral of Nicosia -- where Cardinal Pierre Nasrallah Sfeir, patriarch of Antioch of the Maronites, was also present. I renewed my sincere closeness and deep understanding to every community of the ancient Maronite Church spread around the island, on whose coast the Maronites arrived in different periods and were often harshly tired to remain faithful to their specific Christian heritage, whose historical and artistic memories constitute a cultural patrimony for the whole of humanity.

Dear brothers and sisters, I returned to the Vatican with a spirit brimming with gratitude to God and with sincere sentiments of affection and esteem for the inhabitants of Cyprus, by whom I felt welcomed and understood. In the noble Cypriot land I was able to see the apostolic work of the different traditions of the one Church of Christ and I was almost able to feel so many hearts beating in unison, precisely as the theme of the journey affirmed: "One heart, one soul." The Cypriot Catholic community, in its Maronite, Armenian and Latin expressions, makes an incessant effort to be one heart and one soul, both among itself as well as in cordial and constructive relations with Orthodox brothers and with the other Christian denominations. May the Cypriot people and the other nations of the Middle East, with their governors and the representatives of various religions, be able to build together a future of peace, friendship and fraternal collaboration. And we pray that, through the intercession of Mary Most Holy, the Holy Spirit will render this apostolic journey fruitful and animate throughout the world the mission of the Church, instituted by Christ to proclaim the Gospel of truth, love and peace to all peoples.

Pope Benedict greeted the people in several languages. In English, he said:
Dear Brothers and Sisters,

In my Apostolic Journey to Cyprus this past week, I walked in the footsteps of Saints Paul and Barnabas, who first brought the Gosp el to that island, and visited the small but lively Catholic communities of the island. I thank the Authorities for their warm hospitality, and I particularly thank the Holy Synod of the Orthodox Church of Cyprus and His Beatitude Archbishop Chrysostomos the Second for their fraternal welcome. In my celebrations with the Maronite and Latin Catholic communities I witnessed their strong faith and traditions, and the vitality of their educational and charitable institutions. In Cyprus and throughout the Middle East, Christians are called to overcome divisions and to persevere in their witness to the Gospel in those lands. At Sunday Mass in Nicosia I consigned the working document for the forthcoming Special Assembly for the Middle East of the Synod of Bishops. Let us pray that the Synod will strengthen those ancient Christian communities in communion and hope, and help them to build a future of peace throughout the Middle East.

I offer a warm welcome to the ecumenical study group from the School of Theology at Seton Hall University, and to the members of the International Leadership Programme for LaSallian Universities. My cordial greetings also go to the scholars and experts taking part in the international conference sponsored by the International Insolvency Institute. I greet the many student groups present, and I thank the choirs for their praise of God in song. Upon all the English-speaking visitors present in today's Audience, especially those from Ireland, the Philippines and the United states, I invoke Almighty God's blessings of joy and peace.

©Copyright 2010 - Libreria Editrice Vaticana

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