To the priests, the religious and the faithful of Cyprus and to the whole Diocese of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem
Dear brothers and sisters,
May the Lord give you peace!
It was talked about for quite some time, and for many it has been a topic of conversation for weeks, but it is now official: the Holy Father, Pope Francis, will be in Cyprus in the days of December 2nd - 4th. It is the second time a Pope goes to Cyprus; the first having been the historic visit of Pope Benedict XVI in 2010. It is the second time that Pope Francis visits our Diocese, the first having been his journey to the Holy Land in 2014.
This visit’s theme,“Exhorting one another in faith”, is a reference to the name of the apostle Barnabas, «son of exhortation» (Acts 4,36). It suggests the importance of comforting others and of reciprocal encouragement, which are dimensions essential to the dynamics of dialogue, encounter and welcome. These three being the quintessential traits of the Island’s life and history, as well as of the current Synodal journey.
We are grateful and honored by this visit, which aims to be both a pilgrimage and an opportunity for encounter. It is a pilgrimage on the footsteps of the apostle Barnabas, the apostle of the nations, together with Paul, father of the Church of Cyprus. It is an opportunity for encounter with the reality of the Middle East which pours into the Mediterranean - and into Cyprus - the drama of families seeking refuge from war, poverty, power struggles and religious sectarianism.
Cyprus, in its smallness, on the one hand contains richness and splendor -but also the contradictions and dramas of the whole Middle East. On the other hand, it is a window open to the western world, with which the island has always maintained living relationships. It is a bridge that bears the beauty and the scars of history and upon which Eastern and Western cultures commingle as they walk together. This history has given the Church steadfast witnesses of the Gospel, even in the face of adversity, from Apostolic times until today. For example, at the beginning of apostolic preaching, there were Cypriot citizens in the small group of those who dared announce Jesus Christ in the vast metropolis of Antioch (At. 11,20).
The island’s life is marked by the passage of the Cross. According to Cypriot tradition the oldest monastery on the island, Stavrovouni, was founded by Saint Helen with the donation of a relic of the lignum crucis. To this day we find the cross in the small island of Cyprus, just as -perhaps in a more intense and painful way – we find it in the remainder of the Middle East: political and territorial division, which becomes religious division; the drama of painful migrations, and of economic and social crisis. The land of Cyprus is marked with the imprint of the cross, but even more so it is marked by the luminous footsteps of the resurrection of Jesus’ friend Lazarus, who is remembered as the island’s first Bishop. To this day participation, decisiveness, intense and passionate faith, a desire to meet and a refusal to surrender are traits found on the island.
Ecumenical relationships with the Greek Orthodox Church of Cyprus are excellent and collaboration spans across different areas, including the use of Orthodox churches for Catholic worship, which is rare elsewhere. Our small churches are unable to contain the participation of many migrants and foreign workers who enrich the local Catholic community. They contribute to making ecclesial life colorful and passionate in all parts of the island. The life of the Church is not only limited to the celebration of the Sacraments, but is also committed to works of charity, for example through welcoming refugees- whose presence is proportionally higher than in any other European country – and many other activities of support, in addition to the schools, through which the Church is active in educating many inside the country. During my recent pastoral visit, I had the chance to encounter and experience the serious and constant commitment of diverse parochial and ecclesial realities
In addition to the State visit and to those foreseen by protocol, the Pope will meet Archbishop Chrysostomos and the Orthodox Church, with which as we have stated, the relationship is excellent. The Holy Father will listen to the religious and to the priests who minister on the island; he will celebrate a Holy Mass in the stadium for all the Catholics and he will meet with migrants and refugees. The Pope wishes to touch with his own hand the reality of this part of the world, which seems unable to know peace and to solve its problems. He will also meet many people who have not given up, and who continue to concretely build the Kingdom of God through their commitment to guard and protect the image of God in the life of the Church and in the face of the poor.
Though I know that we would all like to be present with him on pilgrimage, I do not deem it possible for all of us to physically accompany the Holy Father. Each of us may do so through prayer, which is why, though the time for preparation is short, I invite all of you together with the entire Diocese of the Latin Patriarchate to unite in prayer so that this visit may bear fruit and so that it may give the courage to read and answer wisely to the signs of the times. I have attached to this letter a prayer prepared by the organizational Committee, so that it may be said in the parishes and in the various ecclesial realities of the Diocese. Let us unite in this choral prayer for the Holy Father and for his ministry to the Universal Church, for our Church in Cyprus, for all the Churches in the Middle East and for people of all faiths living among us.
I am certain that our entire community in Cyprus, with its diverse configurations, will be united in preparing and participating in this important event of our ecclesial life. I invoke upon you all the Blessing of Almighty God through the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary and of Saint Barnabas.
Jerusalem November 5, 2021
Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem