Pope Francis held an audience Feb. 15 with Nicos Anastasiades, president of Cyprus, at the Vatican's Apostolic Palace, discussing religious freedom and a resolution to the current split of the island nation between Greeks and Turks.
A statement released by the Holy See press office described the meeting as characterized by “cordial discussions which highlighted the good relations between the Holy See and the Republic of Cyprus.”
Pope Francis and Anastasiades discussed “several matters of common interest, such as the positive role of religion in society and the protection of the right to religious freedom,” adding that “satisfaction was expressed at the resumption of negotiations aiming at the development of a shared solution to the island’s current situation.”
The two “indicated their concern regarding the political instability affecting the region of the Near and Middle East, which leads to great suffering on the part of civilian populations, and shared their hope that the Christian communities in the various countries may continue to offer their contribution to building a future of material and spiritual wellbeing.”
After his meeting with Pope Francis, Anastasiades also met with Archbishop Pietro Parolin, Vatican Secretary of State, and Archbishop Dominique Mamberti, Secretary for Relations with States.
Juridically, the Republic of Cyprus has sovereignty over the entire island. However, since 1974, the northern portion of the island – about 40 percent of its area – has been occupied by Turkey and has declared itself to be an independent nation, though it is recognized solely by Turkey.
For several decades, the island of Cyprus has been divided between the Greek southern area, under the jurisdiction of the Republic of Cyprus, and the Turkish northern area, which has declared itself to be its own nation, recognized solely by Turkey.
Greek and Turkish Cypriots are divided along ethnic, linguistic, and religious lines: the Greeks are largely members of the Church of Cyprus, an Eastern Orthodox Church; and the Turks are primarily Sunni Muslims.
A wall that long divided the two portions of the island was brought down in 2008, a symbolic gesture indicating movement towards greater unity.
Since then, reunification talks have continued yet no final decisions have been reached.
Benedict XVI made an apostolic journey to Cyprus in June, 2010. There he met not only with political leaders, but in an ecumenical gesture he also spoke with Archbishop Chrysostomos II, head of the Church of Cyprus.