Grim image of division awaits Pope in Cyprus

Wed Jun 2, 2010 10:55am EDT
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By Michele Kambas

NICOSIA (Reuters Life!) - Behind the pomp and circumstance of a papal visit, sandbags, abandoned gun positions and a crumbling time warp make up the grim image which will welcome Pope Benedict to Cyprus on Friday, when he visits one of the world's last divided capital cities.

Benedict does not have a political agenda in visiting Cyprus from June 4-6, but his accommodation at a Franciscan monastery in territory under the jurisdiction of U.N. peacekeeping forces brings a long-standing conflict into sharper focus.

The Roman Catholic Holy Cross Church in the medieval heart of Nicosia still bears scars from the crossfire of ethnic strife and from a Turkish invasion triggered by a Greek inspired coup in 1974.

Wedged between the Greek and Turkish Cypriot sides of the capital, bullet marks are evident on the pale yellow sandstone of its upper levels.

The building lies opposite a United Nations observation post and sandbagged gun positions of opposing forces -- now unmanned -- and is surrounded on two sides by a derelict corridor of land nobody is permitted to enter.

"We are on a frontier line," said Father Umberto Barato, Vicar General for Cyprus of the Latin Patriarchate and Attache of the Apostolic Nuncio.

"We have a 150-meter wall around us and we have to put on an alarm every night. It's not a normal life," he told Reuters.

He was once severely beaten by assailants who scaled the perimeter wall into the friary adjacent to the Church, though he says the security situation in the area has markedly improved since 2003.   Continued...

<p>United Nations personnel walk in front of the Franciscan monastery, where Pope Benedict XVI will be staying during his visit to Cyprus, in Nicosia June 1, 2010. REUTERS/Andreas Manolis</p>