While Cypriot leaders and their Turkish counterparts are still in limbo over negotiations to reunify the divided island, a break in the enmity was offered on Good Friday as a church in the occupied north was to host a mass for the first time in 58 years.
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, the news agency Reuters reported.
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.
Many Greek Orthodox churches in the north were abandoned, some were turned into mosques, many are simply not used. St. George Exorinos has opened for Greek Orthodox morning mass on two occasions since last December.
Famagusta was once the Mediterranean island’s premier coastal resort but became a ghost town in the aftermath of the Turkish invasion in 1974, which Ankara called a “peace mission” to protect Turkish citizens in response to a brief coup by Greek Cypriot hardliners seeking to unite the island with Greece.
Liturgies at St. George Exorinos stopped before Cyprus gained independence from Britain in 1960, after clashes between Greek and Turkish Cypriots broke out.
More 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 UN peacekeepers, who remain today.