Ground-breaking Good Friday mass signals thaw in Cyprus

Wed Apr 16, 2014 10:44am EDT
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By Michele Kambas

NICOSIA (Reuters) - For the first time in more than half a century, a church in northern Cyprus will host Good Friday mass in a sign of a thaw in relations between Greek and Turkish Cypriots.

Off limits to Greek Cypriots for 58 years, the Church of St. George Exorinos in the medieval city of Famagusta will host a liturgy on what is one of the most important religious dates in the Greek Orthodox calendar.

Alexis Galanos, the Greek Cypriot mayor-in-exile of the sprawling coastal city now on the Turkish Cypriot side of the divided island, hopes it can be a precursor to lasting peace.

Galanos joined with Turkish Cypriot counterpart Oktay Kayalp to organize the event that is expected to draw about 4,000 people.

"It gives a message of reconciliation and cooperation of Greek and Turkish Cypriots throughout Cyprus, and particularly for a reunified Famagusta," said Galanos.

An ancient port city which inspired Shakespeare's tragedy "Othello", Famagusta was once the Mediterranean island's premier coastal resort.

Liturgies at St. George Exorinos stopped before Cyprus gained independence from Britain in 1960, after clashes between Greek and Turkish Cypriots broke out.

Compounding the isolation, major incidents erupted in late 1963 when the Turkish Cypriots pulled out of a power-sharing government, and many Turkish Cypriots withdrew into enclaves prompting the deployment of U.N. peacekeepers, who remain today.   Continued...