The Greek scene is a tribute to the osmosis between Greek and Christian thought. Another visit to Lesbos for a meeting with the refugees stranded on the island. Cyprus as an example in the past of coexistence between Christians, Muslims and Jews. The difficulties of Cypriots after the Turkish invasion of 1974.
Athens (AsiaNews) – Pope Francis is preparing to visit Cyprus and Greece from December 2-6, two Mediterranean countries with a deep Hellenic cultural tradition, where Greek thought has embraced and identified with Christian doctrine. Two nations with common origins, but with a different historical trajectory.
The trip to Greece is a tribute to the osmosis between Greek and Christian thought, which is expressed in the New Testament, in the ecumenical councils of the first millennium and in the reflections of the great theologians of the Christian East. It is also a gift for the bicentenary of Greek independence, an expression of the desire of a people to free themselves from any type of oppression that humiliates the dignity of the human person.
The Lesvos scene is not only meant to express their closeness to migrants, but also to remind them that the Church of Christ continues to exist. Together with Patriarch Bartholomew and Archbishop Ieronymos of Greece, the pope had already visited the Greek island in 2016 to meet desperate refugees from Syria and other countries, victims of the tragedy of war.
Although the presence of the Prelates did not resolve the root causes, it undoubtedly raised awareness in civil society. This is why Francis’ visit to Lesbos should not be seen as a simple commemoration but rather as a way of recalling our obligations as sincere Christians at the gates of Europe.
Above all, we must not forget that Cyprus, the extreme frontier of Europe with the Asian and African continents, was the cradle of the first European Christian apostolic church of the apostles Paul and Barnabas. The latter ordained Lázaro as the first bishop of the island.
The Church of Cyprus is also the first autocephalous church in the Christian world. Due to its important geopolitical position, the island has been the scene of all kinds of clashes and invasions over the centuries without, however, losing its Greek cultural identity and Christian faith. Even during the Muslim occupation, first Arab then Turkish-Ottoman, the local population always found a mode of coexistence and mutual respect.
In the past, Cypriot religious communities – Christian (mainly Greek Orthodox, Armenian and Melkite), Muslim (Turkish Cypriot) and Jewish – coexisted peacefully, building churches, mosques and synagogues side by side.
The invasion of the island in 1974 by the Turkish army caused the rupture. Ankara is said to have intervened to restore the constitutional basis of the Republic of Cyprus, as defined by the London Treaties of 1960, after the attempt by the colonels of Athens to overthrow the democratically elected Cypriot president, Makarios.
The consequence of the invasion was the division of the island into two parts, separated by barbed wire, the forced displacement of the populations, as well as the transfer of 150,000 settlers from deep Anatolia to modify the demography of the island, in plus the stable presence of the Turkish army with 35,000 men.
The invasion led not only to the forced Islamization of the northern part of the island, but also to the destruction of almost all vestiges of local cultural heritage, most of which were sold in European markets. It should also be noted that most of the original Turkish Cypriots later emigrated to Europe, Canada and Australia because they did not accept Ankara’s authoritarianism. And even the third generation of settlers brought from Anatolia are already expressing the need to breathe a different air.
It should also be remembered that Turkey has never respected the UN resolutions regarding Cyprus. One of the fundamental causes of the Cyprus question is the control of the resources of the Middle East, and not only economic. Former Turkish Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Ahmet Davutoglu, a “neo-Ottoman” political theorist, speaks explicitly about the importance of Cyprus for Turkey in his textbook entitled Stratejik Derinlik (Strategic Depth): “Even if it is not there had not been a single Turkish Muslim on the island, Cyprus has always been a strategic territory for our interests”.
With the division of Cyprus, Republican Turkey obtained the second most important conquest, after the region of Hatay in 1938.
In this context, the visit of Pope Francis acquires a very significant character for Cyprus. You will be able to reiterate the importance of “Fratelli tutti” and remember that to be respected it is necessary to put forward our religious convictions on existential questions.
No religious belief, as the great Orthodox theologian Ioannis Zizioulas says, justifies its existence by simply declaring that it possesses the truth. It must show – continues Zizioulas – that this religious credo does not exist to enslave the human person but to set him free and answer fundamental questions. Only then will the world not lose hope or resort to fundamentalism.
Cyprus, which in the past knew how to build coexistence between various groups, expects a lot from Francis and could become an example for the troubled world of the Middle East.