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The Orthodox archbishop talks to AsiaNews about the situation on the island occupied by Turkey, the risks to Christianity in the Middle East and for interreligious dialogue. No clash of civilizations, he says, but the need for greater coordination among Christians, also to help Muslims of good will.
Vatican City (AsiaNews) – The Archbishop of Cyprus, Chrysostomos, head of a small Church but one that has been a historic bridge between Europe and the Middle East, has concluded his visit to the Vaticam. On 28 March, the archbishop had several meetings culminating in an audience with Pope Benedict XVI. The visit, in the words of Chrysostomos, was aimed to raise awareness of the situation among members of the Holy See, so as to coordinate efforts to face the dangers threatening the future and survival of Christians in the Middle East and Cyprus in a region affected by protests and upheaval that have an uncertain outcome.
Regarding the situation of Christians in Cyprus, according to Chyrsostomos, the greatest dangers lie in Ankara’s continued occupation of the northern part of the island, which began in 1974. The first consequence was the division of the island and the total separation of the two ethnic groups, Greek and Turkish, Christian and Muslim respectively. The second consequence has been arrival of 300 thousand settlers from Turkey in the occupied north with the aim of altering the demography of the island, arriving at a lasting Islamization of that part of the island, thanks to their fertility rates.
All this happens under the watchful eye of 40 thousand Turkish soldiers. Thereby reducing the role of the 65 thousand Turkish Cypriots who have remained in the area. Before the invasion they numbered 180 thousand. The Turkish Cypriots are in a permanent state of dispute with the settlers and Ankara; they have always set themselves apart from the settlers through a completely different mentality, characterized by a sense of civic responsibility and tolerant mutual coexistence.
“We made clear to the Holy Father, Chrysostomos continues, that while the whole world is mobilized in the war for so-called human rights, we do not want any war in our favour, but since there is a country that is a candidate to enter the EU, it would suffice that the latter require Turkey to accept and respect the EU’s founding principals, the easiest and most civil way forward”.
Chrysostomos firmly rejects our question on whether there is a clash of civilizations between what many sustain a Western “Christian vision of the world” and a juxtaposing Eastern Islamic vision. Indeed this crisis, this economic and social stagnation affects all humanity, says the Archbishop of Cyprus, adding that he knows many Muslim leaders who are people of good will. And I hope they will not be sent away, “this is one reason – he says – why we Christians must coordinate our efforts in order to also be useful to those people of good will.”
As for the dialogue between Catholics and Orthodox, especially in light of an apparent stalemate that occurred during the last meeting in Vienna, Chrysostomos tells us that he met with Cardinal. Kurt Koch, co-chairman of the Joint Committee on Catholic-Orthodox dialogue, and discussed with him the importance of dialogue. Without giving details, he adds: “The Church of Cyprus is in favour of dialogue and is represented by two high profile figures, the Metropolitan of Paphos and Kostantias. Our church, though it is a small church from the numerical point of view, is held in great esteem within the Orthodox world, and it should be noted that the twenty-first century will be defined as the century of dialogue, because without dialogue with our neighbour, we will never realise a truly human society”.
On the issue of pan-Orthodox dialogue, Archbishop Chrysostomos expresses his opinion that the stalemate resulting from the last pan-Orthodox meeting in Chambesy, was born of some positions of the Church of Moscow. “This negative situation in which we have arrived in the Orthodox world, continues Archbishop Chrysostomos, is partly due to the fact that all we introduce ourselves as national churches. In other words, we are first Greeks, Russians, Arabs, Slavs, etc.. And then Orthodox Christians. What should be united by our faith and not our national origin as I said in my last visit to Moscow. So if we want to move forward in the sense of achieving a true single entity, we have to leave aside our national origins and think of ourselves instead in terms being Orthodox Christians”.
Finally, with regard to Europe and evangelization, Chrysostomos recalls a conversation he had with Benedict XVI during the Pope’s visit to Cyprus. The pontiff said that Europe needs to be re-evangelized. “This is the reason, the archbishop concludes, why all churches: Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant, must embrace their flock. In short we must understand the demands of our people and hear their cries, if we want to really be Church”.