Papal Soundbytes, part I

Well, here is part 1 of the Cyprus edition of ‘Papal Soundbytes’. Just like I have done following Pope Benedict XVI’s visit to Portugal, I will share a choice selection of quotations from the various addresses, speeches and homilies given by the Holy Father when he was in Cyprus this past weekend. They’re intended as highlights of what I think are important and interesting points raised. You may read the full texts here.

Pope Benedict XVI is received with full honours as he is welcomed by President Dimitris Christofias at a windy Paphos International Airport

The intention of the visit:

“Following in the footsteps of our common fathers in the faith, Saints Paul and Barnabas, I have come among you as a pilgrim and the servant of the servants of God. Since the Apostles brought the Christian message to these shores, Cyprus has been blessed by a resilient Christian heritage. I greet as a brother in that faith His Beatitude Chrysostomos the Second, Archbishop of Nea Justiniana and All Cyprus, and I look forward shortly to meeting many more members of the Orthodox Church of Cyprus. […] I hope to strengthen our common bonds and to reiterate the need to build up mutual trust and lasting friendship between all those who worship the one God. […] I come in a special way to greet the Catholics of Cyprus, to confirm them in the faith (cf. Lk 22:32) and to encourage them to be both exemplary Christians and exemplary citizens, and to play a full role in society, to the benefit of both Church and state.” (Welcome ceremony at Paphos International Airport.)

Pope Benedict XVI enthusiastically greets people gathered at the Church of Agia Kyriaki Chrysopolitissa

About communion in the Apostolic faith, and ecumenism:

“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. For, in Paul’s words, “there is one body and one spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism” (Eph 4:4-5).” (Ecumenical celebration in the archeological area of the church of Agia Kiriaka Chrysopolitissa in Paphos.)

“The unity of all Christ’s disciples is a gift to be implored from the Father in the hope that it will strengthen the witness to the Gospel in today’s world. The Lord prayed for the holiness and unity of his disciples precisely so that the world might believe (cf. Jn 17:21).” (Idem)

“Today we can be grateful to the Lord, who through his Spirit has led us, especially in these last decades, to rediscover the rich apostolic heritage shared by East and West, and in patient and sincere dialogue to find ways of drawing closer to one another, overcoming past controversies, and looking to a better future.” (Idem)

About bearing witness:

“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.” (Idem)

On public service:

“From a religious perspective, we are members of a single human family created by God and we are called to foster unity and to build a more just and fraternal world based on lasting values. In so far as we fulfil our duty, serve others and adhere to what is right, our minds become more open to deeper truths and our freedom grows strong in its allegiance to what is good.” (Meeting with the civil authorities and diplomatic corps in Nicosia.)

The pope thanks violin players who welcomed him with music at the Presidential Palace in Nicosia

On the role of morality in public service:

“The ancient Greek philosophers also teach us that the common good is served precisely by the influence of people endowed with clear moral insight and courage. In this way, policies become purified of selfish interests or partisan pressures and are placed on a more solid basis. Furthermore, the legitimate aspirations of those whom we represent are protected and fostered. Moral rectitude and impartial respect for others and their well-being are essential to the good of any society since they establish a climate of trust in which all human interactions, whether religious, or economic, social and cultural, or civil and political, acquire strength and substance.” (Idem)

On how the pursuit of truth can bring greater harmony to the troubles regions of the world, in three steps:

“Firstly, promoting moral truth means acting responsibly on the basis of factual knowledge. […] A second way of promoting moral truth consists in deconstructing political ideologies which would supplant the truth. […] Thirdly, promoting moral truth in public life calls for a constant effort to base positive law upon the ethical principles of natural law.”(Idem)

On what individual faithful can do for the immediate needs of the Church:

“With regard to the immediate needs of the Church, I encourage you to pray for and to foster vocations to the priesthood and religious life. As this Year for Priests draws to a close, the Church has gained a renewed awareness of the need for good, holy and well-formed priests. She needs men and women religious completely committed to Christ and to the spread of God’s reign on earth. Our Lord has promised that those who lay down their lives in imitation of him will keep them for eternal life (cf. Jn 12:25). I ask parents to ponder this promise and to encourage their children to respond generously to the Lord’s call. I urge pastors to attend to the young, to their needs and aspirations, and to form them in the fullness of the faith.” (Meeting with the Catholic community of Cyprus in Nicosia.)

A Maronite cleric presents a gift to Pope Benedict XVI during the latter's visit to St Maron's school in Nicosia, where he addressed the small Catholic community of Cyprus

A preview of the pope’s trip to Cyprus

Tomorrow morning the pope departs for a three-day visit to Cyprus. What’s he going to do there and why is that important?

Before the trip to Portugal, John L. Allen already noted that this year’s papal visits seem to be “laid out in ascending order of difficulty”. Malta was a home game (although it included an unscheduled meeting with victims of sexual abuse), and Portugal was deemed a general success, nationally and internationally (although the Portuguese government did choose to allow same-sex marriage not even a week after the pope had spoken against it). Cyprus, though, seems of a different order of difficulty. Here, the Catholic Church is very much a minority. The 25,000 faithful in the island nation make up 3.15% of the entire population.

Archbishop Chrysostomos and the pope pictured at a meeting in 2007

It is the Orthodox Church which dictates the Christian landscape here. And there is protest in their ranks against the visit of Pope Benedict XVI: At least five of the eighteen members of the Holy Synod are opposed, causing Archbishop Chrysostomos II of Nova Justiniana and All Cyprus to issue a warning to these bishops that they place themselves outside the Church by not welcoming the pope as a visitor to Cyprus.

There is tension aplenty which dates back, in some respects, to the Great Schism of 1054. And while there has been rapprochement between the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Churches since the pontificates of Blessed John XXIII and Paul V (and a possible meeting between the pope and Moscow Patriarch Kirill I seemingly just over the horizon), the disagreements go deep, centering on the authority of the bishop of Rome and certain theological teachings, for example about the Trinity.

The visit to Cyprus will obviously have a very strong ecumenical nature, and the things discussed here will, at least on the short term, be quite important for the ongoing relations between the Catholic and Orthodox Churches. For Pope Benedict, the Orthodox Christians, who are closest to us in faith, are natural partners in many matters facing the western world today. Ecumenism with them is therefore of prime importance.

Back to my first question: what’s the pope going to do in Cyprus? Well, there will obviously be the official receptions and meetings with heads of state and Church, as well as meetings with the Catholic community. The liturgical celebrations planned in Paphos and Nicosia are all described as ‘Ecumenical’ and ‘Eucharistic Celebrations’ – not Masses: a sign that representatives from the Orthodox Church will be involved, perhaps?

On Saturday, the pope will visit and have a luncheon with Archbishop Chrysostomos II and on Sunday morning the Instrumentum laboris of the Special Assembly for the Middle East of the Synod of Bishops, planned for this autumn, will be published. The fact that that publication will happen in the presence of the pope and in Cyprus, and island that in ecclesiastic history has always had close ties with the Holy Land and the rest of the Middle East, is an indication of the importance that Pope Benedict XVI attaches to this special assembly. The Instrumentum laboris (meaning ‘working instrument’), is basically an outline of the topics, with notes and addenda, to be discussed at the assembly).

The two ‘legs’ – ecumenism with the Orthodox and the future of the Church in the Middle East – will both have important repercussions for the near future. This weekend’s papal visit will be one to watch.