Some Cypriot Orthodox Planning Loud Protests Against Pope

Terrasanta.net | May 30, 2010

The Apostolic Nuncio to Cyprus, Archbishop Antonio Franco, speaking with President Christofias, May 25, 2010. (Photo: PIO/S. Ioannides)

(E.P.) Pope Benedict XVI could face some unwelcome and vociferous protests from certain Cypriot Orthodox priests when he visits the third largest island in the Mediterranean on Friday. Cypriot media speculated in early April that such protests may take place, and now it seems likely they will.The protesting Orthodox do not belong to marginal groups but are rather 17 members of the Holy Synod, the self-governing body of the Orthodox Church of Cyprus. According to the media, at least five bishops have announced they won’t go and welcome the Pope. The protestors are opposed to ecumenical dialogue with the Catholic Church.

Archbishop Chrysostomos II – the head of the  Orthodox Cypriots who, together with the President of the Republic  Demetris Christofias, invited the Pope – has urged his brothers not to show disrespect to his guest. In no uncertain terms, he has invited them to reason with their heads rather than with their guts: “There is democracy and freedom of speech in the Church,” says the prelate, “but this does not mean that you can say the first thing that crosses your mind.”

Some have exaggerated the protests: two Orthodox groups have even asked the judiciary – without any sense of the ridiculous – to arrest the Pope whilst he is in Cyprus for having covered up the crimes of paedophile priests.

But regarding the bishops. Chrysostomos II has threatened sanctions, such as the exclusion for one year from attending the Holy Synod, against those who refuse to attend the welcome for the Pope. The matter will be discussed at a meeting by the body scheduled for 3rd June, on the eve of Ratzinger’s arrival.

Chrysostomos II has recalled that the majority of the Synod approved of the invitation to the Pope. Some of its members may disagree, but the archbishop reminded them to follow the decision, as he himself does when decisions which he personally does not agree with are taken.

One of the most explicit opponents is the Bishop of Limassol, Athanasios, who, in an interview a few days ago, called the Pope a “heretic”. The prelate is not exactly a secondary figure: in 2006 he was also in the running for the position of archbishop, but Chrysostomos, then Bishop of Paphos, was preferred.

In the meantime, the spokesman for the police force, Michalis Katsounotos, says that they do not have any information on planned loud protests, nor are they expecting the arrival of large groups of agitators from Greece. In any case, it is in the interests of Cypriots to avoid disgracing themselves in front of the whole world.

Two days ago, in Nicosia, the Apostolic Nuncio in Cyprus, Archbishop Antonio Franco, was received by the President, Demetris Christofias. Talking to journalists at the end of the meeting, the pontifical representative said that the Pope will be coming to the island to meet his people and make a pilgrimage in the steps of St. Paul.

Benedict XVI, Archbishop Franco underlined, has no intention of hurting or offending anybody and therefore there is no reason for being opposed to his visit.