Pope Highlights Ecumenical Dialogue During Cyprus Visit

Ecumenical dialogue with Orthodox Christian and Muslim leaders was a highlight of Pope Benedict XVI's recent trip to the island of Cyprus.

Benedict visited Cyprus from June 4-7 declaring his desire bring peace to the island, which has been divided into a Turkish Muslim North and Greek Christian South for over 30 years.

On Friday, Benedict attended an ecumenical celebration with Archbishop Chrysostomos II, the head of the Cypriotic Orthodox Church, during which Chrysostomos called for the pope's "active cooperation" in resolving divisions on the island.

Chrysostomos had strong words against Turkey, accusing them of carrying out a plan of "national destruction."

"They wish to make everything Greek and Christian disappear from occupied Cyprus," the archbishop said.

Chrysostomos went on to request the pope's "help in order to ensure protection and respect for our sacred monuments and our cultural heritage, in order that the diachronic values of our Christian spirit might prevail."

Following the archbishop, Pope Benedict's address began with a focus the deep roots of the Cypriotic Church, from which "the Gospel message began to spread throughout the Empire, and the Church, grounded in the apostolic preaching, was able to take root throughout the then-known world."

The pope also stressed the "real yet imperfect" communion between Orthodox Christians and Catholics, which "already unites us, and which impels us to overcome our divisions and to strive for the restoration of that full visible unity which is the Lord's will for all his followers."

Benedict further noted that Cyprus is traditionally considered part of the Holy Land, and the situation of continuing conflict in the Middle East "must be a source of concern to all Christ's followers."

"No one can remain indifferent to the need to support in every way possible the Christians of that troubled region, so that its ancient Churches can live in peace and flourish," the pope said, alluding to his reasons for choosing Cyprus as the site to release a paper called the instrumentum laboris - a foundational document for the upcoming Synod of Bishops in October that will address the difficulties of Christians in the Middle East.

"The Christian communities of Cyprus can find a most fruitful area for ecumenical co-operation in praying and working together for peace, reconciliation and stability in the lands blessed by the earthly presence of the Prince of Peace," Benedict added

May "the Holy Spirit enlighten our minds and strengthen our resolve, so that together we can bring the message of salvation to the men and women of our time," he said.

On Saturday, the pope met with some 25,000 Catholics at a sports arena in Nicosia where he again stressed the importance of interreligious dialogue.

"With regard to inter-religious dialogue, much still needs to be done throughout the world," Benedict told the crowd. "This is another area where Catholics in Cyprus often live in circumstances which afford them opportunities for right and prudent action."

"Only by patient work can mutual trust be built, the burden of history overcome, and the political and cultural differences between peoples become a motive to work for deeper understanding" he continued.

"I urge you to help create such mutual trust between Christians and non-Christians as a basis for building lasting peace and harmony between peoples of different religions, political regions and cultural backgrounds".

Later in the afternoon, Benedict met briefly with Sheikh Mehmet Nazim Adil Al-Haquani, an 89-year-old Muslim leader from the north, before the pope was going to give mass.

According to Fr. Federico Lombardi, press officer for the Holy See, the sheikh had excused himself for being seated while waiting for the pope.

"I am very old", Al-Haquani said, to which Benedict replied, "I am old too".

The leaders exchanged gifts and embraced before the sheikh asked Benedict to pray for him, to which the pope replied: "Of course I will, we will pray for one another."

Copyright © 2013 Ecumenical News