Celebrations for the 800th anniversary of St. Francis’ visit to Cyprus

The Latin Church of Cyprus celebrated the 800th anniversary of the Pilgrimage of Peace by St Francis to the Middle East with a series of institutional events and collateral initiatives which took place from 8th to 12th May 2019 in Larnaca, Nicosia, Limassol, and Paphos.

Although no direct sources have been found, it is highly likely that St Francis landed in Cyprus either on his way to or on his return journey from Damietta (where there was the famous meeting with the Sultan of Egypt Melek El Kamel in 1219), as the island of Cyprus was an important and busy base for ships on their way to the Holy Land and Egypt. The Friars Minor settled in Cyprus at the beginnings of the history of the Order and today the Custody of the Holy Land looks after the pastoral matters of the Catholics of the Latin rite for the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, to which Cyprus belongs. The convent of the Holy Cross in Nicosia is also the seat of the Apostolic Nunciature, therefore the local superior is at one and the same time the Representative of the Custos of the Holy Land, Patriarchal Vicar and Attaché of the Apostolic Nuncio.  This also underlines the diplomatic, as well as ecclesiastical, role of the Custody of the Holy Land on Cyprus.

This aspect had its moment of celebration on 9th May in Nicosia, in the Presidential Palace, at a commemorative evening to which the accredited diplomatic corps in the Republic of Cyprus and the Christian and Muslim religious authorities were invited. In the absence of the President Nicos Anastasiades, occupied abroad at a European summit meeting, the welcome address was given by the Acting President and the President of the House of Representatives, Demetris Syllouris.

Syllorius said “First of all, let me say how particularly pleased I am for this commemorative event at the Presidential Palace. It precisely demonstrates our very close and fraternal ties with the Latins of Cyprus, who, as I have noted on other occasions, constitute a very dynamic and special part of our people. “ Referring to the political situation in the times of the Fifth Crusade, the Acting President recalled the situation of conflict that the Republic of Cyprus is currently experiencing with Turkey, recalling that there is still a need today to attain and uphold peace, dialogue and mutual comprehension, inaugurated by the meeting between Francis and the Sultan.

At the end of his address, the Acting president wanted to thank the Representative of the Latin Community to the House of Representatives, Ms. Antonella Mantovani and the Patriarchal Vicar of the Latins, Father Jerzy Kraj for the organization of the event. The other speakers included the Custos of the Holy Land, Father Francesco Patton and the Apostolic Nuncio, Mons. Leopoldo Girelli.

In between the addresses, there were moments of music and dance by the pupils of St. Mary’s School of Limassol and the  Terra Santa College of Nicosia. During the ceremony, the Custos of the Holy Land gave some awards to personalities and representatives of institutions that had stood out by their commitment to dialogue and peace and for the collaboration with the Latin Church of Cyprus. Absent for unforeseen family reasons, the mufti of Cyprus,  Talip Atalay, asked the Maronite archbishop Mons. Joseph Souaif to collect his award in his place; this gesture was interpreted as a sign of inter-religious collaboration and of good relations.

At the start of the evening, there was a brief historical evocation by Father Noel Muscat, a lecturer at the Studium Biblicum Franciscanum in Jerusalem, who spoke more extensively the next day at the conference held at the University of Cyprus, where an important paper on the sources and on the effects of the encounter between St Francis and the Sultan was given by Father Jason Welle of the Pontifical Institute for Arabic and Islamic Studies.

Alongside the institutional and academic initiatives, the Terra Sancta Organ Festival offered four concerts linked to the figure and life of St Francis: the Italian organist Ferruccio Bartoletti improvised on the silent Italian film of 1918, “Brother Sun”, with the subtitles of the film especially translated into Greek and into English.

Text: Riccardo Ceriani | custodia.org

Photos: Press and Information Office, Ministry of Interior, Republic of Cyprus