But when Benedict made the first official papal visit to Cyprus in June 4-6 2010, his total flock numbered just 25,000, and his main speech was held in the sports field of an elementary school. Even so, Benedict’s words and gestures during his brief visit resonated far beyond the divided island nation. The momentous issues on his agenda include the Catholic Church’s relations with Orthodox Christianity, Islam and Judaism, and the plight of Christians throughout the Middle East.
As indicated in a document released earlier that year, major topics of the Vatican synod included religious freedom in Muslim countries, Islamic extremism, Israel’s “occupation” of the Palestinian territories, and the recent exodus of Christians from the region.
Benedict also met with Archbishop Chrysostomos II, leader of Cyprus’s 800,000 Orthodox Christians, in the latest sign of warming relations between the Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches, which split nearly 1,000 years ago. In December of the previous year, the Vatican and Russia finally established full diplomatic relations — a move previously opposed by the large and influential Russian Orthodox Church, which long resented Catholics for allegedly attempting to convert Orthodox believers.
Benedict’s visit could also highlight a source of conflict between Orthodox Christians and Muslims. For three and half decades, the island has been divided between the internationally recognized Republic of Cyprus in the south, and a northern sector seized by the Turkish military in 1974, which is now almost exclusively Muslim.
Although travel between the zones has been permitted since 2003, reunification is not in sight. Orthodox leaders are especially vehement about the desecration and destruction of the churches they were forced to abandon in the north, a subject they raised during Benedict’s stay.
Islam has been a delicate subject for Benedict since September 2006, when he quoted a medieval description of the religion as “evil and inhuman” and “spread by the sword,” which led to violent outbursts throughout the Muslim world. Merja my dear friend gave me this memorable FDC.