CYPRUS – From October 29 to November 5, 2019, Archbishop Pierbattista Pizzaballa visited the small Latin community of Cyprus, once again showing his closeness as a bishop, whose diocese also includes the Cypriot territory.
Perhaps not everyone knows that the Diocese of Jerusalem includes a vast territory, which covers Israel, Palestine, Jordan, and Cyprus. A very large diocese that also has great problems, such as the difficult coexistence between Palestinians and Israelis. But also, in Cyprus, the Christian community suffers the political consequences of the division of the island territory, disputed by Cyprus and Turkey. In this extremely delicate situation, the Church plays a fundamental role, speaking to men in a different language, far from the hostile language of military and geopolitical disputes. And always in this framework, the pastoral visit of the Apostolic Administrator, Mons. Pierbattista Pizzaballa, which took place about a month after his last trip to Cyprus, demonstrating the concern that the Bishop of Jerusalem has with this small but very lively community.
The pastoral visit began Tuesday, October 29 in Larnaca, in the parish of Saint Mary of Graces. Here Archbishop Pizzaballa met Fr. Jerzy Kraj, OFM, Patriarchal Vicar for Cyprus, who explained to him the situation of the four Latin parishes of the island, served by ten Franciscan friars (Nicosia, Larnaca, and Limassol) and by three fathers of the Incarnate Word (Paphos). The Vicar then informed the Archbishop about the main local pastoral activities, the challenges represented by the increase of migrants and the positive signs of ecumenism and interreligious dialogue. In the afternoon Archbishop Pizzaballa spoke with the parish priest of Larnaca, Fr. Gabriel Vormawah and his two collaborators, Fr. Raymond Camilleri and Fr. Jose Clemente Müller. The meeting was followed by a Mass attended by faithful, Sisters and representatives of the various groups active in the parish.
On Wednesday, the day opened with the Eucharist celebrated in the chapel of the Franciscan Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart who run a home for the elderly (Rest Home), at the Franciscan convent. After the visit of the Sisters of St. Joseph of the Apparition and the cemetery where priests who worked in Larnaca are buried, Archbishop Pizzaballa went to Limassol, to the Saint Catherine of Alexandria parish where, in the afternoon, he met the parish priest Fr. Andrew Verdote and his two associates, Fr. Lawrence Coblavie and Fr. Francisco Vigh. In the evening he met Ms. Antonella Mantovani, representative of the Latin Community to the Cypriot House of Representatives.
The next day, the Apostolic Administrator celebrated Mass at the provincial convent of the Franciscan Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart who, in the same structure, manage “St. Mary School”. With lunch, the pastoral visit of the Holy Cross parish in Nicosia began, where, in the afternoon, the Archbishop met with the parish priest Fr. Andrew Arhin, and with his two vicars, Fr. Zacheusz Dulniok and Fr. Moses Schroder. The day ended with Mass in the chapel dedicated to St. Elizabeth of Hungary in Kyrenia, a Turkish part of Cyprus.
On Friday, the fifth day of the pastoral visit to Cyprus, the Archbishop went to Nicosia. Here he visited the Terra Santa College, the oldest school in Cyprus, founded by the Franciscans of the Custody in 1646.
A very intense moment was the visit to the Caritas Migrants center at the Franciscan church of the Holy Cross, where he met staff and volunteers. At the third meeting in the morning, five of the seven Knights of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulcher present on the island presented themselves.
At lunch, Mons. Pizzaballa was received by the Maronite Archbishop Joseph Soueif with whom he discussed the Middle Eastern events, especially the Lebanese and the Holy Land. A visit to the new museum in the Maronite archbishopric followed and a meeting with the Sri Lankan sisters of the Congregation of Our Lady of Perpetual Help. The day ended with the Mass for the solemnity of All Saints with the parish community of Holy Cross.
Saturday was entirely dedicated to the Parish of Paphos. The day began with a visit to the hospice of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, managed by a board of directors chaired by the parish priest of Paphos. The inspection of the structure and the meeting with the managers and staff allowed the Apostolic Administrator to become aware of the difficulties that are experienced daily. Later, a meeting with the four priests currently working in the parish took place in the parish house: Fr. Carlos Ferrero, Fr. Pablo Martin Verni, Fr. Fernando Flores and Fr. Jim Kennedy.
Sunday opened with the Eucharistic Liturgy celebrated in Limassol. After the warm greeting of the faithful, the Archbishop went to Paphos where at noon he presided over another celebration. Here too the participation of the faithful from different cultural and linguistic backgrounds was good. A third Sunday Mass, reserved for the community of African students, was celebrated by Archbishop Pizzaballa in Famagusta. Here, in the chapel of St. Mark at the university, two of them received the sacrament of Confirmation.
Monday was dedicated to the final moments of the pastoral visit. In the morning the Archbishop first met the leaders of the Neocatechumenal Way present in Cyprus and then all the Latin priests of the four parishes of the Island. After the initial prayer, the Apostolic Administrator thanked everyone for the pastoral, educational and charitable commitments he witnessed, appreciating the expansion of pastoral service in the northern part of the island and encouraging those present to build bridges of unity in the parish communities.
The last day of the visit, Tuesday, November 5, began with Mass in the chapel of the convent of the Sisters of St. Joseph. Here a community of 5 sisters live, who presented the activities of the St. Joseph’s Migrant Center to the Apostolic Administrator.
The last official meeting of Archbishop Pizzaballa was with H.E. Chrisostomos II, Orthodox Archbishop of Cyprus. Received in his office, the two prelates spoke of the religious and political situation in the Middle East with specific attention to the issue of Cyprus and Jerusalem. H.E. Pizzaballa then thanked the Archbishop of Cyprus for having made available to the Latin Church their four basilicas for liturgical celebrations and gave them their best wishes for the forthcoming November 13th feast day. As a sign of fraternal friendship, H.B. Christostomos II gave the Latin Archbishop the icon of Barnabas and Paul, the first evangelizers of Cyprus.
Finally, Fr. Jerzy Kraj OFM accompanied Archbishop Pizzaballa to Larnaca airport thanking him on behalf of the entire Latin community of Cyprus for his pastoral visit, promising prayers and an ever more generous commitment to service.