FAMAGUSTA -- Thousands of Greek Cypriots and dozens of officials, including diplomats attended Good Friday mass at the Church of St George Exorinos in occupied Famagusta for the first time in 58 years.
The ceremony, attended also by a representative of the Turkish Cypriot mufti, was hailed as a symbol of reconciliation between the two communities.
Held in this mediaeval walled city in the Turkish part of the divided island, the ceremony at the 14th-century church was the idea of local authorities.
Thousands flocked to the church, with people flying in from abroad, for the service and a procession of the icon of Jesus that was limited to the church grounds for security reasons and guarded by a strong police presence.
Dignitaries included the ambassadors of several countries, the UN resident representative Lisa Buttenheim and the leaders of the two biggest parties, Disy’s Averoff Neophytou and Akel’s general secretary Andros Kyprianou.
Alexis Galanos, the Greek Cypriot mayor-in-exile of the sprawling coastal city, told a packed church that the ceremony sent a message of reconciliation and hope.
“Famagusta is the key,” he said. “Good Friday is the day between Christ’s crucifixion and the hope of resurrection. We have hope. And we hope next year to return to our city,” he said.
Earlier, Famagusta Bishop Vassilios told the congregation that the message of Christ was one of love and reconciliation. He thanked the representative of the mufti, the mayor of the Turkish Cypriot sector of Famagusta and the foreign diplomats, as well as the University of the Eastern Mediterranean that uses the church as an arts workshop.
The mufti said Cyprus was a beautiful island which the two communities can share peacefully and expressed support for the UN sponsored talks to reunite Cyprus.
The mufti and the bishop exchanged gifts. The bishop was also a given the key of the church by a representative of the East Mediterranean university. “This is not a gift. This is being returned to its owner,” he said to applause from the congregation.