The re-opening of the Church of Panagia (Virgin Mary) Galakdodrofousas in Palekythro, Cyprus, after 41 years was hailed by the World Council of Churches (WCC) as an important sign of peace and reconciliation. The church opened its doors to worshippers on 16 August, according to a press release issued by the Office of the Religious Track of the Cyprus Peace Process, under the auspices of the Embassy of Sweden.
The Church of Panagia, built in 1896, has been closed for worship since 1974 following a coup d’état on the island that led to a Turkish military invasion and eventually a ceasefire and United Nations-patrolled buffer zone dividing the island into two ethnically separated portions. The Greek and Turkish Cypriot leaders are currently engaged in active negotiations under UN auspices for a comprehensive settlement.
The liturgy celebrated by Bishop Porfyrios of Neapolis on Sunday gathered some 400 worshippers from the village of Palekythro. Imam Fuat Tosun, regional mufti of Kyrenia, represented Dr Talip Atalay, mufti of Cyprus. Salpy Eskidjian Weiderud represented the Office of the Religious Track of the Cyprus Peace Process.
In his address, Bishop Porfyrios reiterated the appreciation of Archbishop Chrysostomos II of the Church of Cyprus to the mufti for his personal attention and intervention in favour of Sunday worship, which had been rejected by the Turkish Cypriot authorities in earlier years.
“The religious leaders of Cyprus are committed to continue to dialogue and work together for religious freedom, human rights and peace, with the support of the Embassy of Sweden. We are grateful to the Office of the Religious Track for their role in today’s worship and their constant facilitation of the religious leader’s dialogue for peace,” he said. The bishop reminded the worshipers that they should lose neither hope nor faith: “With the help of God peace is possible and we should all work towards that end.”
Imam Fuat Tosun brought greetings of peace from the mufti of Cyprus and welcomed the worshippers in Greek. “God will help both Christians and Muslims to work together to achieve peace in Cyprus and we should continue our joint efforts in this regard.” he said.
With its member churches in Cyprus, the WCC has long been engaged in promoting dialogue between Turkish Cypriot and Greek Cypriot leaders, as well as reunification of the island and its people. In May, the WCC issued a statement welcoming the resumption of peace talks on Cyprus.
“I invite all WCC member churches to join me in prayer for the political leaders of Cyprus, that - with the support of all the religious leaders and the assistance of the United Nations – they will through dialogue find a way to overcome previous antagonisms and disappointments, and shape an undivided and peaceful future for the people of Cyprus,” said Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit, the WCC general secretary in the statement.