The Church of Panagia Galakdodrofousas in Palekythro, in the Turkish northern part of Cyprus, has reopened after 41 years as hope rises the island will be reunified again.
The World Council of Churches (WCC) hailed the opening of the church in the Turkish sector of the divided island where Islam has dominated for four decades as “an important sign of peace and reconciliation,” the Ecumenical News reported.
The church opened its doors to worshippers on August 16, the Office of the Religious Track of the Cyprus Peace Process, under the auspices of the Embassy of Sweden said in a statement.
Imam Fuat Tosun brought greetings of peace from the mufti of Cyprus and welcomed Christian worshippers in Greek at a Sunday service on Aug 16.
“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,” the Muslim cleric said.
The Church of Panagia ((Virgin Mary), built in 1896, had been closed for worship from 1974 after Turkey invaded the island and as it still occupies the northern third despite international condemnation.
With Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades and his Turkish-Cypriot peer Mustafa Akinci began meeting in May to try to settle differences and reunify the island and have made a number of small concessions to each other.
Cyprusin 2014 was called “a station for the pilgrimage of justice and peace” by WCC general secretary Rev. Olav Fykse Tveit.
Since the Turkish invasion of Cyprus in 1974 partitioned the island, the northern third has been inhabited by Turkish Cypriots and the southern two-thirds by Greek Cypriots.
The liturgy celebrated by Bishop Porfyrios of Neapolis on Aug. 16 gathered some 400 worshippers from the village of Palekythro.
Imam 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.
Bishop Porfyrios brought thanks from Archbishop Chrysostomos II of the Church of Cyprus to the mufti for his personal attention and intervention in favor of Sunday worship that 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,” said Porfyrios.
The WCC said in its statement that along with its churches in Cyprus it 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.
Tveit called for prayers in support of dialogue to “find a way to overcome previous antagonisms and disappointments, and shape an undivided and peaceful future for the people of Cyprus.”