Pope Leaves Cyprus

LARNACA, Cyprus (CNS) — Pope Benedict XVI left Cyprus praying for peace on the divided island and throughout the Middle East and encouraging Catholics and Orthodox to continue their journey toward full reconciliation.

“Let us all redouble our efforts to build a real and lasting peace for all the peoples of the region,” he said June 6 during a farewell ceremony at the Larnaca International Airport.

The pope arrived in Cyprus June 4, blessing an olive tree as a pledge of his prayers for peace on the island, which has been divided between the Greek Cypriots in the South and Turkish Cypriots in the North since 1974.

Addressing President Demetris Christofias at the departure ceremony, the pope said that “having stayed these past nights at the apostolic nunciature, which happens to be in the United Nations buffer zone, I have seen for myself something of the sad division of the island, as well as learning of the loss of a significant part of a cultural heritage which belongs to all humanity.”

Christian churches and villages in northern Cyprus have been plundered in the past 35 years, and thousands of icons have been sold on the black market.

“Surely, truth and reconciliation, together with respect, are the soundest foundation for the united and peaceful future of this island and for the stability and prosperity of her people,” the pope said.

The predominantly Christian population of the South and the predominantly Muslim population of the North, he said, must learn to speak to one another and respect one another.

“Let me also express again my sincere hope and prayer that, together, Christians and Muslims will become a leaven for peace and reconciliation among Cypriots and serve as an example to other countries,” he said.

Pope Benedict also had special words of thanks for Archbishop Chrysostomos II, head of the Orthodox Church of Cyprus, who was at the pope’s side for much of the visit and hosted a luncheon for the pope at his residence.

“I hope that my visit here will be seen as another step along the path” of reconciliation begun after the Second Vatican Council, he said.

“We have a divine call to be brothers, walking side by side in the faith, humble before almighty God and with unbreakable bonds of affection for one another,” he said.

Before going to the airport, Pope Benedict paid a brief visit to the Maronite Catholic Cathedral of Our Lady of Graces, the spiritual heart of the largest Catholic community on the island.

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