[Translated from the original french:]
Papadopoulos hands Pope photos of churches destroyed by turks
President of Cyprus Tassos Papadopoulos was received by Pope Benedict XVI friday, to whom he offered a photo album of destroyed and disused churches from the turkish section of the island, stated journalists accredited to the Vatican.
18 days away from the pontif's trip to Turkey, the Pope and M. Papadopoulos, who had come to Rome specifically for this trip to the Vatican, talked about the situation of "the diverse christian communities of the island", according to the Vatican.
During the traditional exchange of gifts, the cypriot president handed the pope a 19th century icon from a destroyed church in the turkish zone, as well as a photo album of 300 churches that were either destroyed or turned to other use within that part of the island.
"Incredible", muttered the pope, quite moved.
This visit comes just over two weeks away from Benedict XVI's upcoming trip to Turkey, and at atime when the EU, to Cyprus' satisfaction, is pressing Turkey to open her ports to greek cypriot shipping.
Some quick background on the bell-weather island of Cyprus:
The north of the island has been under Turkish military occupation since 1974 when a large-scale Turkish invasion took place, resulting in the expulsion of thousands of ethnic Greeks from the north, and the subsequent establishment of a separatist regime to govern the occupied area which currently styles itself the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus. It is separated from the south by the United Nations-controlled Green Line and is only recognized by Turkey. The Republic of Cyprus has been a member state of the European Union since 1 May 2004.The treatment of Cypriot Christian churches at the hands of the turks since their invasion is shocking. From March of 2006, an eye-witness account of the respect the island's turks hold for Europe's Christian heritage:
The Islamization of the north of the island has been concretized in the destruction of all that was Christian. Yannis Eliades, director of the Byzantine Museum of Nicosia, calculates that 25,000 icons have disappeared from the churches in the zone occupied by the Turks.
At the village of Peristerona, on the road to Famagosta, the medieval monastery of Saint Anastasia ... is being used as a stable, with the cows chewing their cud amid what remains of the ancient cells. The tombs of the cemetery have been profaned, and the gravestones broken.
[Along the coast] many of the churches have been turned into restaurants, bars, and nightclubs, for the enjoyment of the tourists. At the top of the rock of Lapethos, which juts out over the sea, the church and convent of Agia Anastasia have become a sumptuous hotel with a swimming pool dug into the cloister, and a casino under the bell tower.
Almost the entire artistic patrimony of the Orthodox Church in the territory occupied by the Turks – 520 buildings between churches, chapels, and
monasteries – has been sacked, demolished, or disfigured. Only three churches and one monastery, the monastery of Saint Barnabas, which has been turned into a museum, are in a more or less dignified state.
Huseyn Ozel, a government spokesman for the so-called Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, displays great cordiality with the foreign journalist. The destroyed and sacked churches? “There was a war, and bad things happened on both sides,” he explains.
I point out to him that most of the mosques in Greek Cypriot territory have been restored, while his government has authorized the transformation of churches into restaurants and hotels, an insult to the sentiment of believers.
“They did this to keep the buildings from falling into ruin, and anyway, these are decisions made by the preceding government, which I do not share,” Ozel counters.
I insist: what do you have to say about the churches that, still today, are being turned into mosques? The Turkish Cypriot functionary spreads his arms wide: “It is an Ottoman custom...”
Maybe His Holyness will bring some needed attention to these "Ottoman customs" that President Bush neglected to mention during the recent meeting with Turkey's Prime Minister Erdogan:
Erdogan: It was important to hear the President say that their support for
Turkey's membership to the European Union will continue. We have also had the
opportunity to discuss the Cyprus issue, and I have expressed our sensitivities
with regard to the issues related to Cyprus.
If only sensitivity to other cultures and religions was also an old Ottoman custom...