Antonis Skoullos, the press coordinator of the Pope’s visit to the Maronite community in Cyprus, looks back on the visit of the Holy Father and underlines the hope and encouragement that Pope Francis brings to the faithful of the island.
By Christine Seuss and Benedict Mayaki, SJ
Pope Francis began his 35th apostolic journey on Thursday, traveling to Cyprus for the first leg of his trip, and then to Greece. The 5-day visit will see him travel to Cyprus from December 2-4, and then to Greece from December 4-6.
In view of the arrival of the Holy Father in Cyprus, preparations are underway to ensure the success of the event. In an interview with Vatican News, Antonis Skoullos, the press coordinator for the Pope’s visit to the Maronite community in Cyprus, discusses the joy of having Pope Francis visiting the country and the organizational challenges that accompany the visit from the pope. Skoullos also speaks about the aspirations 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 after the visit of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI in 2010.
“For me it is a dream come true, I would never imagine that I could live the dream twice in my life”, said Skoullos, recalling having offered his services in 2010 when Benoît visited XVI and now again for the visit of Pope Francis.
He explains that his organizational work with journalists and media staff is demanding and complicated, but is enjoyable because “he is unique” and includes many parts of the community, volunteers, clergy, technocrats, worshipers. and even children. All of these must work together to ensure a smooth Pope visit.
The challenges of the Maronite Catholic community in Cyprus
Cyprus has strong cultural, historical and religious ties with Greece that go back several centuries. Christianity in both countries has its roots in the apostles who evangelized them. Cypriot Catholics represent 4.75% of the country’s population and are predominantly of the Latin rite. The second largest Catholic community are the Maronites who represent 1.5% of the population.
Skoullos recalls the rich heritage of the Maronite community present on the island for more than 1200 years. A culture and a heritage, he says, that “we must do everything possible to preserve and pass on to the younger generations”. He adds that the papal visit encourages the community to continue in their beliefs and to preserve their faith.
However, Skoullos points out that the Maronite community is threatened with extinction due to its small number compared to the larger Greek Orthodox community. He notes that this situation is both “unintentional and unconscious” as it is natural for small communities to be assimilated by larger ones, however, the situation serves to underline the importance of protecting the heritage of the old Maronite Catholic community of several centuries.
The proximity of Pope Francis
“I am sure the Pope already knows the history of the Catholic Maronites in Cyprus,” said Skoullos, adding that it was not the first time he had heard of them.
“He knows what we’re going through, he knows our challenges. He comes to see them. He comes to see it himself. He comes to tell us of 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 by the side of the Catholic Church forever.
Among the challenges facing the Maronite community, Skoullos highlights the desire to return their villages to the north of the country in order to be able to better preserve their culture and identity.
“We want the Pope to really listen to our heartbeat and understand that we really need it and we are looking for his help and his help to make our dreams come true,” he said.
Skoullos concludes by brandishing the motto of the Pope’s visit: “Take comfort in the faith” which, he asserts, “was not chosen by chance” but which “reflects the diversity of Cyprus”.