Bishop Bizzeti on Pope in Cyprus: Fraternity and joy for Turkish Christians
by by Dario Salvi

The Vicar of Anatolia speaks to AsiaNews about an apostolic journey that strengthens relationships and alliances. The island was the first place where the Gospel was proclaimed outside the Holy Land and Antioch. The figure of Barnabas is central to community and openness to different cultures. On migrants and refugees, he recalls that "it is not a wise policy to close oneself within one's own walls". 

Istanbul (AsiaNews) - "Ecumenism, interreligious dialogue and migrants," will dominate Pope Francis' trip to Cyprus and Greece from December 2 to 6 according to Msgr. Paolo Bizzeti, vicar apostolic of Anatolia and president of Caritas Turkey. The visit will re-focus attention on these three major issues around which to build a future stronger than hatred.

The pandemic of Covid-19, and the exacerbation of the economic crisis, have exacerbated a delicate situation to the point of creating new and deeper barriers between peoples and nations in a climate of exasperated conflict.

"Where in the past there were divisions - explains the prelate to AsiaNews - where great religions and different worldviews intersect, the pontiff comes to strengthen relationships, alliances, to announce a possible brotherhood" that becomes an element of joy and redemption "even for Christians in Turkey: they are happy when the Pope devotes attention to this part of the world and they feel part of this experience." 

The Pope's presence in the Middle East on the eastern shores of the Mediterranean "is always a source of joy," stresses Msgr. Bizzeti, because it is an area "of great importance" since the past and, in more recent times, also "a place of divisions, just think of the island of Cyprus." In the region, "the great monotheistic religions and different worldviews intersect" and it is here that Francis wants to relaunch the value of coexistence. "Cyprus - he recalls - is the first place where Barnabas and Paul experience themselves as heralds of the Gospel, as sent by the Christian community (Acts 13)." 

The Bishops says that another element of great value is the prominence given to the figure of Barnabas: "We always talk about St. Paul - he explains - but he would not have been the Apostle of the Gentiles if there had not been Barnabas, an extraordinary personality."

And the Pope himself "is in line" with these two champions of the faith, because like them he "seeks to help people stay together both in the community of Jesus' disciples and by opening up to different people and cultures", relaunching "ecumenical and intra-Christian dialogue". The visit to the "brothers in the faith" continues Msgr. Bizzeti "is a way to keep alive and deepen the fraternity".

The same applies to interreligious dialogue with Islam, although it is not "the main focus of this trip. Rather, it wants to recall the importance of an island where different peoples and religions have coexisted for millennia. Cyprus [in its two Greek and Turkish faces] belongs to everyone and we must find a way to live together. Where there are walls to be knocked down, the Pope is there." 

Finally, the theme of refugees, dear to a pontiff who returns to Lesbos to remind "a frightened Europe" that "it is not a wise policy to close oneself within one's own walls." No civilization in history, recalls the Vicar of Anatolia, enclosed within itself "has had a future". The issue of refugees and migrants "is complex" and cannot be solved in a "simplistic" way, admits the prelate; Turkey itself "has made a great effort in the field of reception", but one cannot "delegate" to a single nation a problem that "concerns everyone" and involves "millions of people. There are situations that are so terrible, such as being subjected to the Taliban regime, that even a desperate escape is preferable... I hope that Europe does not make a wrong choice." 

The Pope places the migrant issue in a different perspective, one of "multiculturalism," recalling that great civilizations "are capable of integrating minorities" while closure is a sign of "decadence. The basic agnosticism of Europe - concludes Msgr. Bizzeti - favors fundamentalism, both Islamic and Christian and is a terrible plague. We need a balanced vision, which does not deny identity and tradition, but puts them in the right perspective, becoming a conscious and wise choice of life". 

The island of Cyprus, divided between the government of Nicosia and the northern Turkish part, is a mosaic of different sects and religions: 80% are Orthodox Christian, 18% Muslim and the remaining 2% are Latins, Maronite Catholics, Armenian Orthodox, Protestants, Hindus and Buddhists, with a small representation of Jews, Jehovah's Witnesses and Baha'i. Today the four parishes in Cyprus are under the jurisdiction of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, with a vicar in Nicosia. The Maronite Church has its own ecclesiastical circumscription (archiepachia), in communion with Rome since the fourteenth century. The only visit by a pontiff (Benedict XVI) to the island dates back to June 2010. The island is also the European nation with the highest number of refugees in relation to its population (about 4%).