A First for Cyprus, A First for the Pope, in the Footsteps of St Paul


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(04 Jun 10 - RV) Paphos is one of the most historic sites in Cyprus. It was considered the birthplace of the Greek goddess Athena, and served as a religious centre in the Mediterranean for centuries.

St. Paul visited Cyprus on his first missionary journey, traversing the entire island. It was at Paphos that he converted the Roman Pro-consul, Sergius Paulus to Christianity.

St. Paul's visit to the island is one of the chief reasons Pope Benedict is visiting Cyprus, as he announced upon his arrival: "Following in the footsteps of our common fathers in the faith, Saints Paul and Barnabas, I have come among you as a pilgrim and the servant of the servants of God. Since the Apostles brought the Christian message to these shores, Cyprus has been blessed by a resilient Christian heritage."

The President of Cyprus, Demetrius Christofias, welcomed the Pope, saying his presence conveys a strong message of peace over hatred and war. He said Cyprus needs the Pope's words of peace, given the difficult situation the island is facing in its Turkish occupied area. The President also drew attention to the destruction and looting of Christian sites in Northern Cyprus since the 1974 Turkish invasion.

The Pope went from the airport to the Church Agia Kiriaki, the site where St. Paul was said to have been scourged at a pillar. The Church sits among the ruins of a much larger basilica, which was destroyed by marauding Arabs in the seventh century.

The Church serves both the local Catholic and Anglican community in the vastly Orthodox city, so it was a fitting space for Pope Benedict to attend an Ecumenical Service, hosted by the Orthodox Bishop of Paphos, Metropolitan Georgios.

After arriving, Pope Benedict knelt for prayer in front of the Icons which cover the sanctuary of the church, before going outside, where the people were gathered among the archaeological ruins. On his way out of the Church, he met and blessed a ten-year old Sri Lankan girl, Jasmitha Marharahasingh. The child survived brain cancer and heart surgery, and her story had captured the heart of the Cypriot people, who named her "The Angel of Cyprus".

Outside of the Church, the Pope was welcomed by a choir, and Knights of the Holy Sepulchre, since Cyprus is considered part of the Holy Land. Joining the Pope were several Orthodox bishops, as well as representatives from the Armenian, Lutheran, and Anglican communions.

He told them "Today we can be grateful to the Lord, who through his Spirit has led us, especially in these last decades, to rediscover the rich apostolic heritage shared by East and West, and in patient and sincere dialogue to find ways of drawing closer to one another, overcoming past controversies, and looking to a better future".

The Church in Cyprus, which serves as a bridge between East and West, has contributed much to this process of reconciliation. The path leading to the goal of full communion will certainly not be without its difficulties, yet the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church of Cyprus are committed to advancing in the way of dialogue and fraternal cooperation."

Pope Benedict concluded his remarks by speaking about the importance of Holiness in the Christian life. "Sanctity is the sign of the fullness of Christian life, a profound inner docility to the Holy Spirit who calls us to constant conversion and renewal as we strive to be ever more conformed to Christ our Saviour. Conversion and holiness are also the privileged means by which we open our minds and hearts to the Lord's will for the unity of his Church".

After the Ecumenical meeting, Pope Benedict left Paphos by car for the nearly two hour drive from the coast to the interior of the island, and the capital, Nicosia. The Holy Father is staying in the apostolic nunciature, located in the UN controlled buffer zone - Within site of the gate to the monastery which houses the Nunciature are sandbags and abandoned gun positions. It is a stark reminder of the suffering the nation has endured over the past 35 years.