A view of the Maronite Cathedral of Our Lady of Grace in Nicosia, Cyprus A view of the Maronite Cathedral of Our Lady of Grace in Nicosia, Cyprus  (AFP or licensors)

Pope comes to listen to the heartbeat of the Cypriot Maronite community

Antonis Skoullos, the press coordinator for the Pope’s visit to the Maronite community of Cyprus, reflects on the Holy Father’s visit and underlines the hope and encouragement Pope Francis brings for the faithful of the island.

By Christine Seuss and Benedict Mayaki, SJ

Pope Francis set out on his 35th Apostolic journey on Thursday, visiting Cyprus for the first leg of his trip, and then Greece. The 5-day visit will see him visit Cyprus from 2-4 December, and then Greece from 4 -6 December.

In view of the Holy Father’s arrival in Cyprus, preparations have been underway to assure the success of the occasion. In an interview with Vatican News, Antonis Skoullos, the press coordinator for the Pope’s visit to the Maronite community of Cyprus, reflects on the joy of having Pope Francis visit the country and the organizational challenges that come with the Pope’s visit. Skoullos also speaks about the yearnings and aspirations of the relatively small Maronite Catholic community in the country.

Second Pope to visit Cyprus

Pope Francis is the second Pope to visit Cyprus following the visit of Emeritus Pope Benedict XVI in 2010.

“For me, this is a dream-come-true, I would never imagine that I could live the dream twice in my life” Skoullos said, recalling volunteering his services in 2010 during the visit of Benedict XVI and now again for Pope Francis’s visit.

He explains that his job of organizing with journalists and media personnel is challenging and complicated, but is enjoyable because “it is unique” and integrates many parts from the community, volunteers, the clergy, technocrats, the faithful and even children. All these have to work together to ensure a smooth-sailing visit of the Pope.

Listen to an excerpt of the interview with Antonis Skoullos

The challenges of the Maronite Catholic community in Cyprus

Cyprus has close cultural, historical and religious ties with Greece that date back many centuries. Christianity in the two countries traces its roots to the Apostles who evangelized them. Cypriot Catholics make up 4.75% of the Country’s population and are predominantly of the Latin rite. The second-largest Catholic community are the Maronites who make up 1.5% of the population.

Skoullos recalls the rich heritage of the Maronite community which has been present on the island for over 1200 years. A culture and heritage, he says, that “we must do our utmost to keep and forward to younger generations.” He adds that the papal visit encourages the community to continue in its beliefs and to preserve its faith.

Maronite Catholic nuns attend a liturgy
Maronite Catholic nuns attend a liturgy

However, Skoullos points out that the Maronite community faces the threat of disappearing due to its small numbers in the face of the larger Greek Orthodox community. He notes that this situation is both “unintentional and unconscious” as it is natural for smaller communities to be assimilated by larger ones, however, the situation serves to underscore the importance of protecting the heritage of the centuries-old Maronite Catholic community.

A view of  the Maronite village of Kormakitis, Cyprus
A view of the Maronite village of Kormakitis, Cyprus

Pope Francis’s closeness

“I am sure the Pope already knows the story of the Catholic Maronites of Cyprus,” Skoullos affirmed, adding that this is not the first time he is hearing of them.

“He knows what we go through, he knows our challenges. He's coming to witness them. He's coming to see it himself. He's coming to tell us by himself the message that he is here, he wants to listen and he will help us as much as possible to remain faithful to God, to Jesus and to remain next to the Catholic church forever.”

Among the challenges faced by the Maronite community, Skoullos highlights the desire to return their villages, in the country’s north, in order to be able to better preserve their culture and identity.

“We want the Pope to really listen to our heartbeats and understand that we really need and we're looking for his aid and his help to realize our dreams,” he said.

Skoullos concludes by holding up the motto for the Pope’s visit: “Comforting each other in faith” which, he affirms, “was not set by chance” but is one that “reflects the diversity of Cyprus.”

Pope Francis arrives in Cyprus
Pope Francis arrives in Cyprus
02 December 2021, 14:51