VATICAN CITY — It looks like Pope Benedict will be getting lots of nice views of the sea next year! He is set to visit Malta, Britain, Portugal, and now Cyprus.
Head of the Vatican press office, Father Federico Lombardi, informed us today that the pope has accepted an invitation from President Demetris Christofias to visit this Eurasian island sometime in early June.
The Cypriot leader said he invited the pope during his visit to the Vatican in March.
It’s not the first time Pope Benedict has been asked to visit. Then-President Tassos Papadopoulos urged the pope to go to Cyprus during his papal audience in 2006.
I was there covering that meeting and will never forget the pope’s reaction when he looked through a thick leather-bound photo album that the president had given him. It contained dozens of color photographs of Christian churches, monasteries and other sacred sites that had been destroyed or desecrated after the Turkish military occupied northern Cyprus in 1974. The pope was visibly struck by the severity of destruction that befell these places of worship.
Meanwhile, church leaders in the region are thrilled about the pope’s visit. In a brief communique sent to the Vatican on behalf of Latin Patriarch Fouad Twal of Jerusalem, Maronite Archbishop Joseph Soueif of Cyprus, and Franciscan Father Pierbattista Pizzaballa — head of the Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land — it said:
with great pleasure [we] announce that His Holiness, Pope Benedict XVI, accepting the invitation addressed to him by the president of the republic and of their local churches, has the intention to visit Cyprus at the end of next spring, probably at the beginning of June.