|Address by HE the President of the Republic of Cyprus Mr. Demetris Christofias at the welcoming ceremony of His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI
at the Presidential Palace
Embargoed until 9.45 a.m.
It is a great honour for the Government of the Republic of Cyprus, the people of Cyprus and myself, to welcome You to the Presidential Palace, to the home of all Cypriots. Cyprus, a hospitable island, welcomes and warmly embraces You.
Due to its geographic position, Cyprus has always been a meeting point of many peoples and civilizations. For centuries, Orthodox Christians live harmoniously on our island together with the Catholic and Muslim communities. This heritage and the wealth emanating from this co-existence demonstrate that Cyprus can become a bridge which unites different worlds.
Cyprus aspires to and can become a model for the “civilisation of co-existence”, the civilisation of the future. The message of peace sent by the Inter-faith Conference organized in 2008 by the community of Saint Egidion and the Orthodox Church of Cyprus, headed by His Beatitude the Archbishop of Cyprus Chrysostomos II is always current: “No human being, no people, no community is an island. Everyone needs somebody else; everyone needs the friendship, forgiveness, and help of someone else. We share a common global destiny: either we live together in peace or we perish. […] No hatred, no conflict, no wall can resist the power of prayer, forgiveness, and patient love leading to dialogue. Dialogue does not generate weakness, rather it grants new strength. It is the real alternative to violence. Nothing is lost with dialogue”.
The humanitarian work of the Holy See for the poor is an example for all of us. For this reason, Your Holiness, to me Your visit is a historic moment and I assure You of my country’s desire to further develop its cooperation with the Holy See in the field of development aid. We, together with Your Holiness, are fellow travellers on the road towards achieving peace and acquiring a common universal moral conscience, as well as in the struggle against poverty, exclusion, injustice and hunger.
Since 1973, the Republic of Cyprus has diplomatic relations with the Holy See. Since the establishment of our embassy at the Holy See in 2003, these relations have blossomed and strengthened further. I, myself, have had the honour to visit You at the Vatican twice, the first time as the President of the House of Representatives and the second time as the President of the Republic. The memories of these meetings remain vivid.
International relations and the political life need stable moral values, especially nowadays when the effects of globalization and open economies are becoming increasingly evident. Moral decadence and the prevalence of extreme materialism, as well as market anarchy and the pursuit of profit at any cost alienate both man and society. As You wisely stressed in 2008, “a democracy without values may lose its very soul”. I am convinced of the soundness of Your words.
Your visit coincides with the 50th anniversary of the establishment of the Republic of Cyprus. Your arrival at this time adds moral and spiritual prestige to the celebrations taking place on the occasion of this anniversary.
Since the first visit of the Apostles Paul and Barnabas in 43 A.D., Cyprus has always been an apostolic land, with deep Christian roots. Unfortunately, a great part of the spiritual and cultural heritage of Cyprus, including the burial site and the Stavropegic Monastery of Apostle Barnabas as well as the Maronite religious monuments, continues to be under the occupation of the Turkish army. It is particularly disturbing that for 36 years our cultural and religious heritage in the occupied areas is being destroyed and this constitutes a loss for mankind in general.
The painful history of the island strengthens our longing for peace, not only for our island but also for the wider area. Our proximity to the Middle East is not just geographical but also personal.
Despite its long history Cyprus gained its independence in 1960 and since 1974 is has been experiencing the painful military occupation of more than 36 per cent of its territory. Nicosia remains the last divided European capital. I recall that departing from the Holy Land a year ago, You said that the wall there was one of the most distressing images that You had ever seen in Your life. I also recall that You prayed for peace. May this prayer for peace soon be fulfilled in the case of Cyprus as well!
I can assure You that from the day of my election to the office of the President of the Republic I have dedicated all my efforts and I continue to exert every effort towards the achievement of a just, viable and functional solution to the Cyprus problem. The road towards the solution, however, requires that Ankara changes its policy and that it negotiates on the basis of the agreed framework for the solution, which we reached with the former leader of the Turkish Cypriot community Mehmet Ali Talat. This framework provides that the solution shall be a bizonal, bicommunal federation with political equality of the two communities as this is described in the relevant resolutions of the United Nations Security Council. It also provides that Cyprus shall be one state, with a single sovereignty, a single international personality and a single citizenship.
Turkey has a motive to change its policy since it seeks to become a full member of the European Union. The Government of the Republic of Cyprus supports the accession of Turkey to the European Union. It is not, however, prepared to concede to everything that pertains to the relations between Turkey and the European Union, except under the condition that Turkey will comply with its obligations towards the EU and its member states.
The international community must exert its influence on Turkey. It is high time that everyone realizes that compliance with international law is more important than serving the narrow interests relating to the geostrategic position of Turkey. Otherwise, justice and stability in the whole area of the Eastern Mediterranean will be jeopardized. The recent distressing developments in Gaza should make everyone stop and think.
We honour our commitments and are free of nationalistic prejudices. We bring to the negotiation table positions that serve the interests of the people of Cyprus as a whole, regardless of national identity and religious beliefs. Our political determination and our good will to reach a solution cannot be disputed.
I welcome You again to Cyprus and the Presidential Palace and wish You a pleasant and spiritually constructive stay, as well as good health and the best of luck with Your mission for global peace.