Pope Calls on Christians and Muslims to be Leaven for Peace


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(06 Jun 10 - RV) Pope Benedict left Cyprus on Sunday with words of encouragement for the people of the Island. The country has been divided since 1974, with the green line dividing the Greek and Turkish sides going through the heart of the capital Nicosia.

During his stay in the capital, the Pope said he got a first-hand view of the division of the island.

In comments at Larnaca airport, as he took his leave Pope Benedict said : "Having stayed these past nights in the Apostolic Nunciature, which happens to be in the United Nations buffer zone, I have seen for myself something of the sad division of the island, as well as learning of the loss of a significant part of a cultural heritage which belongs to all humanity. I have also listened to Cypriots from the north who wish to return in peace to their homes and places of worship, and I have been deeply moved by their pleas. Surely truth and reconciliation, together with respect, are the soundest foundation for the united and peaceful future of this island, and for the stability and prosperity of all her people".

The President of Cyprus, Demetris Christofias, said the trip was an historic event of unparalleled significance, and said all Cypriots saw the Pope as a messenger of peace and a fervent supporter of equality.

Before arriving at the airport, Pope Benedict made a visit to the Maronite Cathedral in Nicosia. Just around the corner from the Pope's residence during his stay in Cyprus, the Maronite Cathedral is also in the UN Buffer Zone.

The Pope was greeted by the Maronite Archbishop of Cyprus, Youssef Soueif who said the Holy Father's presence was a gift to the country.

Archbishop Soueif said "Your presence here gives a blessing to our people, to Cyprus. We ask you to bless our families, our enclaved people who are signs of hope and strong faith; our youth and our children, so that they may always live in purity of heart and in the spirit of the Gospel.

Maronites make up the vast majority of the Catholic population of Cyprus, although they themselves make up about 1% of the population of the island. The Maronites, along with Armenian and Latin Catholics, are a recognized minority in Cyprus. The Pope urged them to hold strong to their faith and traditions in the country.

Pope Benedict said "Maronites came to these shores at various times throughout the centuries and were often hard-pressed to remain faithful to their distinct Christian heritage. Nevertheless, in spite of their faith being tested like gold in a fire (cf. 1 Pet 1:7), they remained constant in the faith of their fathers, a faith which has now been passed on to you, the Maronite Cypriots of today. I urge you to treasure this great inheritance, this precious gift".

Earlier in the day, Pope Benedict had published the Instrumentum Laboris, or working document, of the Special Assembly for the Middle East of the Synod of Bishops. The synod begins in Rome on October 10th.