Pope Francis visited Cyprus Thursday and met with Greek Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades and Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci, as well as with the country’s Orthodox Patriarch, Bartholomew. While on the island, Francis invited other leaders to unite the island in peace, making the trip the first of a pope to a divided country.
Pope Francis’s two-day trip comes as leaders of both sides of the island engage in peace talks for reunifying their once-conflicting colonial-era fiefdoms. He has called reconciliation between the two communities a “source of hope for Europe,” according to USA Today.
The pope’s visit comes in the wake of recent eruptions of violence in the Middle East, including an assault by a fanatic Islamic State jihadist in Tunisia that killed 38 and just last month, the Bataclan terror attack in Paris that killed 90 people. It is unclear if Francis will meet with those killed during the attacks.
His first visit to Cyprus coincides with the 50th anniversary of a military clash in Cyprus, in which Greek Cypriots bombed the Turkish military base at Akrotiri with impunity — sparking a buildup of tensions that led to the island’s war in 1974. As a Christian-majority country, Cyprus remains one of the most hostile countries in the Middle East, The Guardian reported.
Most people on the island celebrate the visit — a Catholic priest at the local Orthodox church in Famagusta said he’d be thrilled to see the pope — but many believe the pontiff has a lot of ground to make up. “The cardinals will approve Pope Francis’ arrival as long as they are absolutely sure [he] can do anything,” the priest, Ephrem, told The Guardian.
“He is a good man, but we need a complete change,” Donal Murray, a resident of the Greek Cypriot capital of Nicosia, told The Guardian. “He is bringing more problems. He has not helped us enough with the economy. People are thinking of emigrating.”
Though there is only one international airport in Cyprus — with three Israeli and four Turkish airlines operating out of it — many citizens who had hoped that the pope would meet with the Muslim religious leaders here said he’d be betraying his religion by dabbling in politics.
Religious leaders in the Greek Cypriot Muslim community feel betrayed by their Christian hosts.
Church and political representatives in the Greek Cypriot Muslim community told The Guardian that the pope has no standing to bring the issue of Cypriot reunification to their attention. Since the Vatican embassy in Nicosia still has a Muslim ambassador, any interfaith dialogue, political or otherwise, would be futile.
“He would be way too quick to use dialogue in a situation that has absolutely nothing to do with us,” Adnan, a member of the Muslim Council of Cyprus, told The Guardian. “To be honest, I think Pope Francis is in line with the ideas of the Cyprus government, not a different set of ideas.”
On the Orthodox Church side, the only church leader to meet with the pope — Patriarch Bartholomew, of Istanbul’s magnificent Maronite church — has already met with the leaders of the Greek and Turkish Cypriot communities. As such, the chance of a meeting with him here is slim. Bartholomew has reached out to both sides of the island’s crisis, the Guardian noted, telling Greek and Turkish Cypriots, “we are one body and that being of importance to us.”
“I saw him this morning and he is in a very good mood,” Maximos Koulouris, an official in the office of the Greek Orthodox Patriarch, told The Guardian. “He understands the current position in Cyprus, and the situation has definitely changed since the shooting (of 1974).”