Patriarch Pizzaballa: Cyprus is ‘where Europe and the Holy Land meet’

Pope Francis celebrates Mass at the GSP Stadium in Nicosia, Cyprus, Dec. 3, 2021 Pope Francis greets Latin Patriarch Pierbattista Pizzaballa of Jerusalem at a Mass at the GSP Stadium in Nicosia, Cyprus, Dec. 3, 2021. | Vatican Media.

The Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem has said that Cyprus is “where Europe and the Holy Land meet,” in an interview reflecting on last week’s papal visit to the country.

Patriarch Pierbattista Pizzaballa spoke to ACI Stampa, CNA’s Italian-language news partner, during Pope Francis’ whirlwind two-day trip to the island in the eastern Mediterranean Sea.

“Cyprus is part of the Holy Land. Cyprus, as I always like to say, is the periphery of Europe and the periphery of the Holy Land, where Europe and the Holy Land meet,” he said in the interview published on Dec. 7.

“Historically, it has always been linked to Jerusalem, it is a diocese of Jerusalem. One cannot think of Cyprus without Jerusalem.”

Pizzaballa was named Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem by Pope Francis on Oct. 24, 2020. The Italian archbishop had served as apostolic administrator of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem since 2016.

The 56-year-old Franciscan friar oversees the pastoral care of the estimated 293,000 Latin Catholics in Israel, the Palestinian territories, Jordan, and Cyprus.

Cyprus has a predominantly Eastern Orthodox population of 1.2 million, with a Catholic minority of around 10,000 people.

Pizzaballa told ACI Stampa it was unlikely that Cyprus would ever be separated from the Jerusalem patriarchate.

“I don’t think it will ever happen, and in any case, if it does, we will not see it. The Church that is in Cyprus would have to become so large that it would have to be organized in a separate diocese,” he said.

He described Cyprus as an “oasis” for relations between Catholics and other Christians.

“Cyprus is an oasis in relation to other Churches, and in particular to Orthodox Churches. When we talk about the Mediterranean, we always talk about crises and needs. It is good to touch where something works,” he said.

The patriarch also addressed the island’s divided status, describing it as “a very sensitive issue” and “an open wound.”

The island of Cyprus also contains Northern Cyprus, a predominantly Sunni Muslim territory located in the northeast.

Northern Cyprus is recognized only by neighboring Turkey, which invaded Cyprus in 1974, and is considered part of the Republic of Cyprus by all other states.

Pizzaballa said: “There are Christian communities in the territory controlled by the Turks. We go, both in official and less official communities — and by this I don’t mean clandestine. It is the communities that are formed by migrants and students.”

He suggested that any changes in the political situation would be “slow and long.”

“The Christian communities are moving, changing, it is a much more lively Church, less resigned because it has a lot of novelty, brought above all by migrants who are a full part of the ecclesiastical panorama,” he said.

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In an address to Cypriot authorities on Dec. 2, the pope described the island as “a pearl of great price in the heart of the Mediterranean.”

Commenting on the image, Pizzaballa told ACI Stampa that Cyprus remained a pearl despite its challenges.

He said: “Let’s say it is a pearl that has become a little tarnished, it needs to be cleaned. The beauty of the pearl always remains, but it needs care. The pearl is a living being, it needs light. Without light, it is lost.”

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