Nicosia (AsiaNews) - Banners and cries of welcome, smiling monks and metropolitans around Benedict XVI and Archbishop Chrysostomos II, the church of Agia Kyriaki Chrysopolitissa (Saint Ciriaca Chrysopolitissa), an ancient Cypriot Orthodox Church, opened to worship for Catholics and Anglicans. It 's the first of Pope Benedict’s appointments after the welcome ceremony in Cyprus, Paphos airport (see photo). It is an ecumenical celebration that immediately indicates one of two main reasons for Benedict XVI’s 16th trip outside Italy. The other is the delivery to the Catholic bishops of the Middle East the Instrumentum laboris, the working document for the Synod for the Middle East, an occasion of unity for Christians living in the region in "sometimes difficult circumstances."
The journey towards unity assumes a special meaning on this island which the Pope remembered, "was the first stage of the missionary journeys of the Apostle Paul." "Close to this very place,– he added - they preached in the presence of the Roman pro-consul Sergius Paulus. Thus it was from this place that 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. " "From here Christian roots of spread throughout Europe ", says his part, Archbishop Chrysostomos.
Currently, Chrysostomos, an important figure in Orthodoxy, is openly committed to the search for unity: he had previously met Benedict XVI at the Vatican, where he invited him to Cyprus and had harsh words against those extremist fringe Orthodox who did not want to see the pope in their lands.
"The Church in Cyprus - said Benedict XVI - can rightly be proud of her direct links to the preaching of Paul, Barnabas and Mark, and her communion in the apostolic faith, a communion which links her to all those Churches who preserve that same rule of faith. This is the communion, real yet imperfect, 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. "
"The Church’s communion in the apostolic faith - he added - is both a gift and a summons to mission." "Like Paul and Barnabas, every Christian, by baptism, is set apart to bear prophetic witness to the Risen Lord and to his Gospel of reconciliation, mercy and peace". Difficult words on this island divided into two following the Turkish invasion in 1974. The President of Cyprus, Demetris Christofias, recalled this in his welcome speech, it was also recalled by Chrysostomos who evoked the destruction of churches, monuments, artworks and even Christian names in the occupied part of the island and who asked the Pope for help to end the division.
The Pope did not mention the issue, but we know that the Vatican declined the invitation to extend his visit to the other part of the island. Benedict XVI upon his arrival, spoke of Cyprus as a standing “at the crossroads of cultures and religions, of histories both proud and ancient but which still retain a strong and visible impact upon the life of your country. Having recently acceded to the European Union, the Republic of Cyprus is beginning to witness the benefit of closer economic and political ties with other European states. Membership has already given your country access to markets, technology and know-how. It is greatly to be hoped that membership will lead to prosperity at home and that other Europeans in their turn will be enriched by your spiritual and cultural heritage which reflects your historical role, standing between Europe, Asia and Africa."
"Cyprus - he added - is thus an appropriate place in which to launch our Church’s reflection on the place of the centuries-old Catholic community in the Middle East, our solidarity with all the Christians of the region and our conviction that they have an irreplaceable role to play in peace and reconciliation among its peoples”.
The Synod, the second central theme of the trip, in the words of the Pope on his arrival, “will address will examine many aspects of the Church’s presence in the region and the challenges that Catholics face, sometimes in trying circumstances, in living out their communion within the Catholic Church and offering their witness in the service of society and the world.. " It he added during the ecumenical service, " will reflect on the vital role of Christians in the region, encourage them in their witness to the Gospel, and help foster greater dialogue and cooperation between Christians throughout the region. Significantly, the labours of the Synod will be enriched by the presence of fraternal delegates from other Churches and Christian communities in the region, as a sign of our common commitment to the service of God’s word and our openness to the power of his reconciling grace.