President of Cyprus to Visit Benedict XVI

Community of Sant'Egidio Helping Country's Unification

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VATICAN CITY, MARCH 25, 2009 (Zenit.org).- Benedict XVI is planning to receive the president of the Republic of Cyprus, Demetris Christofias, in the midst of the country's negotiations for reunification.



Today, the Embassy of Cyprus to the Holy See reported that this visit to the Pope on Friday "aims at keeping and strengthening the existing good relations between Cyprus and the Holy See."

The president will be accompanied by his wife, Elsie, and the minister for foreign affairs, Markos Kyprianou. After greeting the Pontiff, the president will meet with the Pope's Secretary of State, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone.

The embassy reported that this visit takes place during the negotiations being carried out since early 2008, to find a solution to the division of the country. It noted that the Community of Sant'Egidio has played an important role in this process.  

The president and his entourage are scheduled to have dinner on Friday with Andrea Riccardi, founder of the Sant'Egidio Community, before returning to Cyprus.

One nation

The embassy's statement affirmed, "It is thanks to Christofias that negotiations have speeded up towards reunification of the island in a federal state under one single government and respectful of each single community."

A British colony until 1960, Cyprus was divided after its independence between the ethnic Greek and Turkish populations. After a series of clashes between the two communities, in 1974 an attempt to annex the island to Greece prompted Turkey to invade the North of the country. This region later became the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, which is not recognized by the international community.

The country, comprised of approximately 78% Greek Orthodox and 18% Muslims, joined the European Union in 2004.

In recent months, negotiations for a reunification of the island have intensified, and the Catholic Church has had a moderating role. The Orthodox archbishop of Cyprus, Chrysostom II, announced last December his wish to come to Rome to ask Benedict XVI his help in solving the country's problem.