Vatican spokesman Fr. Federico Lombardi has explained the reasons for Pope Benedict XVI's coming visit to the island of Cyprus on Saturday morning. The trip, which he said follows in a line with the Holy Father's journey to Malta earlier this year, also invites prayer for the Middle East.
“Why Cyprus?” was the topic of this week’s installment of the spokesman’s editorial Octava Dies, offered through the Vatican's Television Center, in response to the question many people have posed as to what could be behind the decision to meet with Middle Eastern bishops in Cyprus to help prepare them for their Synod in October. The answer to this question, said Lombardi, is not a difficult one.
"We have only to read the Acts of the Apostles, the account of the first steps of the proclamation the Gospel to the world after the Resurrection of Jesus," he said.
The island makes six appearances in the Bible, he explained. In addition to being the Apostle Barnabas' homeland to which he would return and evangelize, it was the site that first welcomed Paul, Mark and Barnabas on their first "missionary journey." Paul made it back several times, recalled Fr. Lombardi.
The last time he set foot on the island was as a prisoner on his way to Rome, the same trip during which he found himself shipwrecked on Malta. Pope Benedict XVI celebrated the 1,950th anniversary of this event with the Maltese during his trip to the country from April 17-18 of this year.
Referring to another fundamental reason for the Pope's decision to publish the working document for the coming synod in this particular place, Fr. Lombardi explained that as a historically strategic, and thus cultural and spiritual, crossroads of those traveling to and from the Holy Land, it has long represented a point of encounter between East and West, Asia and Europe.
While we might find it hard to believe that John Paul II never reached the site, he continued, "it is no surprise that Benedict XVI has gladly accepted the invitation to go there, as a visitor and a pilgrim, on a journey that's an ideal continuation of his visit to Malta, travelling along the Mediterranean towards the East.
It's a journey," he said, "that also recalls last year's fundamental voyage to the Holy Land itself."
Concluding the editorial, Fr. Lombardi said that from the Pope's trip to the nation, "We can't not look, pray and hope for an announcement and service of the Gospel that is a source of dialogue, ecclesial communion, human growth and peace for all, in a region that is dear to all believers, but which is still experiencing too much suffering and division."
The Holy Father's journey to Cyprus will take place from June 4-6.