Pope Benedict XVI is making his third apostolic visit outside Italy — following trips to Malta in April and Portugal in May — in the past six weeks as he journeys to Cyprus June 4-6.
The Christian presence on the Mediterranean island reaches back to apostolic times — it was visited by St. Paul, Barnabas and John Mark during Paul’s first missionary journey (see Acts 13) — and now has a strong Orthodox presence. In fact, ecumenism is high on the pontiff’s agenda, with an ecumenical celebration and a visit with Archbishop Chrysostomos II, head of the Orthodox Church of Cyprus, planned for the visit.
During his weekend visit, the pope also was to introduce the working document for the special Synod of Bishops for the Middle East, which will take place Oct. 10-24 at the Vatican.
Highlights of papal trip
◗ Ecumenical celebration in the Agia Kiriaki archaeological area.
◗ Visit with the president of Cyprus in the presidential palace in Nicosia.
◗ Meeting with the Catholic community of Cyprus at St. Maron of Nicosia Catholic elementary school.
◗ Courtesy visit with Archbishop Chrysostomos II, head of the Orthodox Church of Cyprus, at the archbishop’s residence.
◗ Mass with priests, religious, deacons, catechists and leaders of lay movements in the Latin-rite Church of the Holy Cross in Nicosia.
◗ Mass marking the publication of the working document for the Synod of Bishops for the Middle East in the Elefteria sports arena of Nicosia.
◗ Lunch with patriarchs and bishops on the planning council of the Synod of Bishops for the Middle East, with Archbishop Chrysostomos and members of the papal entourage.
By the Numbers
785,000 - Population of Cyprus
24,000 - Number of Catholics (Maronite and Latin rite) in the island nation, making up 2.2 percent of the population
80%- of the population is Orthodox
30 - Number of Catholic priests
1 - Number of archbishops
Source: The 2010 Catholic Almanac
Of the small percentage of Catholics in Cyprus, 6,000 of them are part of the Maronite community, which is associated with the Antiochian liturgical tradition.
Maronites have had a presence on Cyprus since the end of the seventh century. While they are fluent in Greek, they have their own language, Cyprus Maronite Arabic, and celebrate Mass in Aramaic.
Maronites had long settled in northern Cyprus, but many had to seek refuge in the southern part of the island after Turkey invaded the north in 1974, which remains under Turkish control. However, a small number remained enclaved in three Maronite villages in the north: Kormakitis, Asomatos and Karpashia. Today, only about 100 or so Maronites live in Kormakitis, although several hundred Maronite Catholics return on Sundays to attend Mass at the village’s St. George Church.
“The church is our strength,” Giovanni Pahita, 60, told Catholic News Service for a May 19 story. “We have nothing else. We don’t have work or schools or young people.”