Famagusta (Cyprus) (AFP) - With a nighttime procession lit by the glimmer of devotional candles and the flash of smartphone cameras, a church in Turkish-held northern Cyprus hosted its first Easter mass in nearly 60 years.
Hundreds of Greek Cypriots crossed the Green Line to attend the ceremony at Famagusta’s church of St George Exorinos, in the part of the Mediterranean island occupied by Turkish forces since 1974.
Bishop Vassilis, wearing robes embroidered with gold and white and accompanied by a top Muslim cleric from the Turkish Cypriot community, led a tearful ceremony around the gardens of the 14th century church in Famagusta’s mediaeval walled city.
Crowds of worshippers who had crossed for the historic service pressed around as the bishop delivered a mass urging reconciliation on the divided island.
…Bishop Vasilios said the “massive presence of so many faithful is a clear message of promoting the conviction that religion is a powerful tool for reconciliation and not for division.”
He said today`s service was a “divine act” that surpassed all expectations and praised the presence of the representative of the Turkish Cypriot religious leader. Events like these, he said, contribute to solidifying good relations between the two communities.
The representative of the Turkish Cypriot religious leader said the two religious leaders can make great efforts to find a solution and the leaders of the two sides have good hearts and can contribute positively towards a solution to the Cyprus issue.
A representative of the Eastern University gave Bishop Vasilios the key to the church of Agios Georgios, which is part of a University programme.
“This is not a present, this is something that is handed back to its owner”, he added, as he returned the key to the Bishop.
(Note that the church is used by the Turkish occupation authorities for university activities. Many churches are being used for even more undignified things, such as stables).
The traditional procession of an icon of Jesus, which would normally be openly paraded through the streets of a Greek neighborhood, was limited to the church grounds for security reasons and guarded by a strong police presence.