Role of religion in Cyprus conflict discussed by world churches' chief

By agency reporter
March 5, 2011

The General Secretary of the World Council of Churches, the Rev Dr Olav Fykse Tveit, has met with Archbishop Chrysostomos II of the Church of Cyprus and with the president of Cyprus, Dr Demetris Christofias, in separate meetings in Nicosia this week.

At a meeting with Chrysostomos at the archdiocese, the two spoke about the importance of dialogue and the role of religious leadership, particularly in situations of occupation, division and conflict.

For nearly two generations Cyprus has been a place of separation and conflict. Efforts have continued throughout the years, including many involving the United Nations, to end the conflict.

Dr Tveit is in Cyprus to attend a week-long inter-Orthodox consultation on the nature and mission of the church. The consultation is being held in Ayia Napa.

“Cyprus is an island at the crossroads of civilizations and religions,” Tveit said after his meeting with the archbishop. “It has a long experience of peaceful coexistence between people of different confessions and religions.”

Dr Tveit said the conflict in Cyprus is not a religious one, but religion has become part of the separation. “The conflict has prevented people from visiting and worshipping in their holy sites.”

“I am encouraged that the archbishop has taken initiatives to meet with the Turkish Cypriot religious leadership and is willing to work with them. These are signs of hope for the future,” he said.

The WCC has followed the conflict since 1974 and supports a solution of the Cyprus conflict based on the UN resolutions. Over the years, there has been a particular focus of the WCC on the respect for human rights, the right to worship and religious freedom.

“We as churches, sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ, are called to deal with difficult memories of the past and to work for reconciliation with a vision for justice and peace for the future. We need to listen to the pain of one another to pave the way for forgiveness and coexistence. The Church of Cyprus has strong leadership and deep roots in the history and life of this country. Hence, it has the power to bring new visions of a life together in a united Cyprus. I hope and pray that all religious leaders in Cyprus can work together in a way that leads toward the path of justice and peace,” the General Secretary concluded.

In a meeting with President Christofias, Tveit was able to explain the work of the WCC and its member churches in conflict and post conflict situations. He expressed the WCC hope for peace efforts in Cyprus. The two met at the presidential palace.

“We believe that walls can come down, including the ‘wall’ which divides Cyprus today. There is however a wall in our souls which also needs to be addressed,” said Tveit after the meeting with Christofias.

“We pray for the political leaders of both communities,” he continued. “It is encouraging to listen to the president’s commitment to finding a just and sustainable peace, acting with wisdom and courage,” Tveit said. “Bringing about a viable, peaceful solution to a political conflict can be a long and arduous process, which requires accepting hard compromises and real commitment to peace as well as the patience and goodwill of all parties concerned. On both sides there are people longing for a future together in real peace and justice.”

Dr Tveit was accompanied on both visits by Metropolitan Professor Dr Gennadios of Sassima, Vice-Moderator of the WCC Central Committee, Metropolitan Dr Vasilios of Constantia-Ammochostos, Moderator of the Faith and Order Commission, and Georges Lemopoulos, deputy General Secretary of the WCC.


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