A future of friendship and
collaboration for the peoples of the Middle East
On Wednesday, 9 June , at the
General Audience in St Peter's Square, the Holy Father spoke of his
recent Apostolic Journey to Cyprus, from 4-6 June, in the footsteps of
St Paul and St Barnabas. The following is a translation of the Pope's
Catechesis, which was given in Italian.
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Today I wish to reflect on my Apostolic Journey to Cyprus which in
many ways was in continuity with my previous Journeys to the Holy Land
and to Malta. Thanks be to God this Pastoral Visit went very well, since
it has felicitously achieved its object.
Already in itself it was an historic event; in fact, never before had
the Bishop of Rome visited that land blessed by the apostolic work of St
Paul and St Barnabas and traditionally considered a part of the Holy
In the footsteps of the Apostle to the Gentiles I became a pilgrim of
the Gospel, primarily to strengthen the faith of the Catholic
communities that form a small but lively minority on the Island and to
encourage them to continue on the path to full Christian unity,
especially with our Orthodox brethren.
At the same time I wanted to embrace in spirit all the Middle Eastern
people and to bless them in the Lord's Name, invoking from God the gift
I was given a warm welcome everywhere I went and I gladly take this
opportunity to express my deep gratitude once again in the first place
to Archbishop Joseph Soueif of Cyprus for Maronites, and to H.B.
Archbishop Fouad Twal, together with their collaborators, as I renew to
each one my appreciation of their apostolic action.
My heartfelt gratitude then goes to the Holy Synod of the Orthodox
Church of Cyprus, and first of all to H.B. Chrysostomos II, Archbishop
of Nea Justiniana and All Cyprus, whom I had the joy to embrace with
brotherly affection, as well as the President of the Republic, all the
Civil Authorities and all those who laudably did their utmost, in their
various capacities, to ensure the success of my Pastoral Visit.
It began on 4 June in the ancient city of Paphos where I felt
enveloped in an atmosphere that seemed, as it were, a perceptible
synthesis of 2,000 years of Christian history. The archaeological
remains here testify to an ancient and glorious spiritual heritage that
still has a strong impact on the country's life today.
A moving ecumenical celebration took place at the Church of Agia
an Orthodox place of worship also open to Catholics and Anglicans
that is located within the archaeological site. Together with the
Orthodox Archbishop Chrysostomos II and the representatives of the
Armenian, Lutheran and Anglican communities, we fraternally renewed our
reciprocal and irreversible ecumenical commitment.
I later expressed these sentiments to H.B. Chrysostomos II during our
cordial Meeting at his residence, at which I also noted that the
Orthodox Church of Cyprus is bound to the destiny of this people,
preserving devout and grateful memories of Archbishop Makarios III,
commonly considered the father and benefactor of the nation. I too
desired to pay homage to him, pausing briefly by the monument in his
honour that portrays him.
This attachment to tradition does not prevent the Orthodox Community
from engaging in the ecumenical dialogue with the Catholic community
with determination; both are motivated by the sincere wish to
re-establish full and visible communion between the Churches of the East
and of the West.
I began the second stage of my Journey on 5 June, in Nicosia, the
capital of the Island, by calling on the President of the Republic who
received me with great courtesy.
In meeting the Civil Authorities and the Diplomatic Corps, I
reaffirmed the importance of basing positive law upon the ethical
principles of natural law in order to promote moral truth in public
life. It was an appeal to reason, based on ethical principles and full
of demanding implications for contemporary society that all too often no
longer recognizes the cultural tradition on which it is founded.
The Liturgy of the Word, celebrated at St Maron's Elementary School,
was one of the most evocative meetings with the Catholic community of
Cyprus, with its Maronite and Latin-Rite members, and enabled me to
become closely acquainted with the apostolic fervour of Cypriot
It is also expressed through educational activities and social
assistance. The dozens of structures that serve society as a whole are
appreciated by the Government authorities as well as by the entire
It was a festive, joyful moment enlivened by the enthusiasm of
numerous children and young people. The dimension of remembrance was not
lacking and made movingly perceptible the heart of the Maronite Church,
which in this very year is celebrating the 1,600th anniversary of the
death of its Founder, St Maron.
Particularly important in this regard is the presence of some
Maronite Catholics who came from the four villages of the Island where
Christians are a people that suffers and hopes. I wanted to express to
them my fatherly understanding of their aspirations and difficulties.
During that same celebration I was able
to admire the apostolic commitment of the Latin community, guided by the
solicitude of the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem and by the apostolic zeal
of the Friars Minor of the Holy Land, who with persevering generosity
make themselves available to serving the people. Latin-Rite Catholics,
very active in the area of charity, pay special attention to the workers
and to the neediest. To all, Latins and Maronites alike I assure my
remembrance in prayer, encouraging them to witness to the Gospel also
through a patient effort of reciprocal trust between Christians and
non-Christians, in order to build a lasting peace and harmony among the
At Holy Mass celebrated in the Parish
Church of Holy Cross in the presence of priests, consecrated people,
deacons, catechists and representatives of the Island's lay associations
and movements, I wished to repeat my invitation to trust and hope.
Starting from a reflection on the mystery of the Cross, I then addressed
a heartfelt appeal to all the Catholics of the Middle East so that,
despite the great trials and well-known difficulties, they will not give
in to the hardship and the temptation to emigrate, since their presence
in the region is an indispensable sign of hope.
I guaranteed to them, and especially to
the priests and religious, the affectionate and intense solidarity of
the Church as a whole, as well as constant prayers, so that the Lord may
help them always to be an active and peaceful presence.
The culminating moment of the Apostolic
Journey was certainly the consignment of the Instrumentum Laboris
of the Special Assembly for the Middle East of the Synod of Bishops.
This event took place on Sunday, 6 June, at the Sport Centre in Nicosia,
at the end of the solemn celebration of the Eucharist in which the
Patriarchs and Bishops of the various ecclesial communities of the
Middle East took part.
The participation of the People of God
was unanimous: "with glad shouts and songs of thanksgiving, a multitude
keeping festival", as the Psalm says (Ps 42:4). We experienced it in
practice, partly thanks to the presence of so many immigrants who form a
significant group among the Island's Catholic population, into which
they have integrated without difficulty.
We prayed together for the soul of the
late Bishop Luigi Padovese, President of the Turkish Bishops'
Conference, whose unexpected and tragic death has left us saddened and
The theme of the Synodal Assembly for
the Middle East that will be taking place in Rome next October, speaks
of communion and the openness to hope: "The Catholic Church in the
Middle East: Communion and Witness". In fact the important event is a
gathering of the Catholic Christianity of that region, with its
different rites, that at the same time seeks to renew dialogue and
courage for the future.
It will therefore be accompanied by the
prayerful affection of the entire Church in whose heart the Middle East
has a special place, since it is here that God made himself known to our
fathers in the faith.
However attention to other topics of our
global society will not be lacking, particularly of the protagonists of
public life, called to work with constant commitment to enable this
region to surmount the situations of suffering and conflict that still
afflict it and to rediscover peace in justice at last.
Before taking my leave of Cyprus, I
wished to visit the Maronite Cathedral in Nicosia
where Cardinal Nasrallah Pierre Sfeir, Patriarch of Antiochs for
Maronites, was also present. I renewed my sincere closeness and fervent
comprehension to every community of the ancient Maronite Church
throughout the Island, on whose shores the Maronites arrived in various
periods and were often hard put to stay faithful to their specific
Christian heritage, the memories of whose art and history constitute a
cultural patrimony for the whole of humanity.
Dear brothers and sisters, I returned to
the Vatican my heart brimming with gratitude to God and with sentiments
of sincere affection and esteem for the inhabitants of Cyprus by whom I
felt welcomed and understood.
In the noble land of Cyprus I was able
to see the apostolic work of the different traditions of the one Church
of Christ and I could almost feel many hearts beating in unison
just as the Journey's theme said: "One heart, one soul". The Catholic
Cypriot community, in its Maronite, Armenian and Latin branches, strives
ceaselessly to be of one heart and one soul, both within itself and in
cordial and constructive relations with its Orthodox brethren and with
the other Christian denominations.
May the Cypriot people and the other
nations of the Middle East, with their government leaders and the
representatives of the different religions, build together a future of
peace, friendship and fraternal collaboration.
And let us also pray that through the
intercession of Mary Most Holy the Holy Spirit may make this Apostolic
Journey fruitful and enliven throughout the world the Church's mission,
established by Christ to proclaim to all peoples the Gospel of truth,
love and peace.