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WikiLeaks: 2008-12-08: 08NICOSIA958: Church of Cyprus and Community of Sant'Edigio Host Interfaith Dialogue

by WikiLeaks. 08NICOSIA958: December 08, 2008.

Posted: Monday, December 30, 2013 at 01:07 PM UT


Viewing cable 08NICOSIA958, CHURCH OF CYPRUS AND COMMUNITY OF SANT'EDIGIO HOST

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Reference ID Created Classification Origin
08NICOSIA958 2008-12-08 04:46 UNCLASSIFIED Embassy Nicosia
VZCZCXRO0484
RR RUEHAG RUEHAST RUEHDA RUEHDF RUEHFL RUEHIK RUEHKW RUEHLA RUEHLN
RUEHLZ RUEHNP RUEHPOD RUEHROV RUEHSK RUEHSR RUEHVK RUEHYG
DE RUEHNC #0958/01 3430446
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 080446Z DEC 08
FM AMEMBASSY NICOSIA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 9402
INFO RUEHZL/EUROPEAN POLITICAL COLLECTIVE
RUEHGB/AMEMBASSY BAGHDAD 0042
UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 03 NICOSIA 000958 
 
SIPDIS 
 
DEPARTMENT FOR EUR/SE, EUR/WE AND NEA/I 
 
E.O. 12958: N/A 
TAGS: PREL PHUM KIRF VT CY
SUBJECT: CHURCH OF CYPRUS AND COMMUNITY OF SANT'EDIGIO HOST 
INTERFAITH DIALOGUE 
 
1. (SBU) Summary: Political and religious leaders of numerous 
nations and various faiths gathered in Nicosia November 16-18 
at a conference organized by the Roman Catholic Community of 
Sant'Egidio and hosted/financed by the Church of Cyprus. 
Despite earlier misgivings that the event could morph into a 
platform for Archbishop Chrysostomos II and other Church 
officials to bash Turkey on the Cyprus Question, there was 
only limited discussion of the "national issue" in the panel 
sessions, breakout groups and in the Archbishop's opening and 
closing statements; Turkish Cypriots, while invited to 
attend, were noticeably absent.  Most participants and 
pundits claimed the conference provided a useful, faith-based 
political and educational framework to promote inter-cultural 
dialogue, discuss specific conflicts, and network amongst 
themselves, although they also criticized the 
ultra-nationalist Cypriot Archbishop Chrysostomos's 
"questionable" peacemaker credentials as well as the event's 
financial cost.  A conference highlight was a panel 
discussion on the situation of Christians and other 
minorities in Iraq.  Sant'Egidio's next interfaith dialogue 
will take place in Cracow, Poland in 2009.  This telegram is 
a joint effort of Embassies Nicosia and Vatican City.  End 
summary. 
 
-------------------------------- 
The Organizers and Their Mission 
-------------------------------- 
 
2. (U) The Community of Sant'Egidio is a lay Catholic 
association which the Holy See has officially recognized as 
an ecclesiastical movement.  While Sant'Egidio does not speak 
for the Vatican, it is inspired by social teachings of the 
Roman Catholic Church and has focused on service to the poor 
and on conflict resolution.  The Community estimates a 
membership of 60,000 volunteers in seventy nations, and is 
strongest in Italy.  Its most prominent conflict resolution 
success has been mediating an end to the civil war in 
Mozambique in 1992.  In addition to the president of the 
Republic of Cyprus, the presidents of Albania, Malta and 
Montenegro attended the conference in Nicosia on November 
16-18, as did former FARC hostage in Colombia Ingrid 
Betancourt, Israel's interior minister, and several Catholic 
cardinals.  The theme for this year's event was "Building a 
Civilization of Peace, Cultures in Dialogue." 
 
--------------------------------------------- 
Cyprus Question Always Just Below the Surface 
--------------------------------------------- 
 
3. (U) Kicking off the conference, RoC President Demetris 
Christofias pled for peace and justice in Cyprus, and 
referred to the "cruel fate of refugees at the hands of 
Turkish invaders."  He also spoke positively, however, of the 
efforts he and Turkish Cypriot leader Mehmet Ali Talat were 
making to settle the Cyprus Problem.  Christofias stressed 
that in Cyprus there is respect for different religions and 
cultures, and "our effort is to send messages from this 
meeting all over the world for peace in Cyprus and 
elsewhere."  Religion had nothing to do with the present 
situation here, the President claimed, and a settlement must 
serve all the island's populations:  ethnic Greeks, Turks, 
Armenians, Maronites, and Latins (Roman Catholics).  They had 
lived in peace before 1974, and they could do so again, he 
concluded. 
 
4. (SBU) The conference host, Archbishop Chrysostomos II, has 
a reputation on Cyprus as a nationalist, at least as much 
politician as priest.  In the run-up to the conference, 
contacts and commentators questioned whether he was the right 
man to lead an interfaith dialogue.  As one put it, "This is 
a person who's highly controversial when it comes to peace 
and dialogue with the Turkish Cypriots; someone who was 
against the start of direct talks and who suggested that if 
the leaders fail to reach a solution, we should close the 
checkpoints (between the government-controlled and Turkish 
Cypriot-administered areas of the island)."  The Archbishop 
also has criticized recent efforts by the Ministry of 
Education to revise and update the history books in schools, 
which are highly ethnocentric. 
 
5. (SBU) The Cyprus Problem bookended the conference, with 
Christofias and Chrysostomos using their inaugural greetings 
(and, in Chrysostomos' case, his final prayer as well) to 
call for peace in Cyprus.  However, at the heart of the 
conference -- found in the panel discussions and breakout 
groups -- the Cyprus issue was very rarely discussed and 
instead the focus was on inter-cultural dialogue.  Multiple 
panels took up discussions on peaceful coexistence, touching 
on specific conflict areas ranging from Israel/Palestine to 
 
NICOSIA 00000958  002 OF 003 
 
 
Lebanon, Africa and Latin America.  Other panels explored the 
multifaceted relationships between religions, such as Islam 
and Christianity and Christianity and Judaism.  Panels on 
prayer, ecumenism, monasticism, human rights and building 
peace by combating poverty also took place.  Most 
participants claimed these panels, and the conference as a 
whole, provided a useful, faith-based political and 
educational framework to promote inter-cultural dialogue. 
 
------------------------------ 
The Future of Iraqi Christians 
------------------------------ 
 
6. (U) Visiting Embassy Vatican polchief attended the panel 
on "Building a Culture of Peace in Iraq."  The discussion 
largely focused on the situation of Christians in that 
country.  Iraqi Muslim panelists Abdul Hadi Kadhim 
Al-Hussaini (Secretary General of the Honored Sada 
Association) and Ali Khalid Sarmad (Sunni Community of 
Kirkuk) affirmed that Christians had a rightful place in an 
Arab and Islamic Iraq.  Iraqi Christian panelists, including 
the Catholic Chaldean Archbishop of Kirkuk, Louis Sako, and 
the Catholic-Latin Archbishop of Baghdad, Jean Benjamin 
Sleiman, denounced extremists that fomented hate by calling 
Iraqi Christians "crusaders and traitors," and noted that 
Christianity in Iraq predated the birth of Islam.  Another 
panelist, the President of Mandeans in Iraq and the World, 
Sattar Al-Hilo, complained that elements of Iraqi law 
discriminated against minorities.  Mandean creed forbids 
divorce, Al-hilo related, and many Mandeans wishing to end 
marriages converted to Islam to do so.  Iraqi law stipulated, 
however, that if a head of household converted, his whole 
family was considered to have converted simultaneously. 
 
7. (U) Archbishop Sleiman, also the president of Caritas 
Iraq, called attention to the humanitarian needs of all 
Iraqis.  Development programs in Iraq were not comprehensive 
and often did not reach the poorest citizens, he argued. 
This was true under Saddam, and continued today, even in 
areas that had benefited from rapid economic growth, like 
Kurdistan.  Most assistance projects, Sleiman added, focus on 
cities rather than villages. 
 
8. (SBU) Following the panel discussion, Sako told Embassy 
Vatican polchief that he believed Christians should not 
participate in the upcoming provincial elections in Iraq, to 
protest the small number of seats set aside to them.  Sako 
thought this was the only way to apply pressure on electoral 
officials and correct the situation in the future, "as the 
Sunnis did in previous elections." 
 
------------------------------------------ 
Detractors Criticize High Conference Costs 
------------------------------------------ 
 
9. (SBU) Critics called the cost of the conference -- 
reportedly near one million euros -- "excessive."  Others 
accused the Archbishop of hosting the event solely to confer 
on himself a degree of international gravitas.  Opposition 
Greek Cypriot daily "Politis" wrote, "Last year, he gave only 
30,000 pounds (65,000 USD) to the victims of the 
Peloponnesian fires, saying he couldn't give more because the 
Church's money came from 'the honorable toil of the people.' 
Then he goes and spends one million euros for supposed 
religious 'leaders' and heads of countries to stay in 
five-star hotels.  Interfaith dialogue is not a bad thing, 
but spending all this money was just showing off."  To 
conference supporters, however, the substantial cost of the 
conference was justified.  As one theologian put it, "You 
need to take into account the substantial result.  And 
anyway, the money wasn't thrown away.  It went back into the 
Cypriot economy, to the hotels and buses." 
 
------- 
Comment 
------- 
 
10. (SBU) The Cyprus conference was successful in that it 
gathered international political leaders and personalities, 
influential members of the Roman Curia, Sant'Egidio members 
engaged in various conflict-resolution initiatives, and 
several thousand Sant'Egidio volunteers and sympathizers.  It 
also offered a unique public demonstration of joint effort 
between leading Catholic and Orthodox organizations and 
clerics.  While the formal plenary and panels provided a wide 
spectrum of views on many different topics, the greatest 
value of the event lay in the opportunity to network and 
develop informal contacts on the margins of meetings.  The 
conference was also a platform to promote Judeo-Christian 
 
NICOSIA 00000958  003 OF 003 
 
 
values and showcase them to representatives of other cultures 
and religions, and to educate new generations on universal 
values, tolerance, and peace.  Next year's conference in 
Cracow coincides with the 70th anniversary of the Nazi 
invasion of Poland and the 20th anniversary of the fall of 
the Berlin Wall. 
 
11.  (SBU) The high-profile conference on interfaith dialogue 
was also a welcome sight in divided Nicosia, given the 
history of conflict between the two communities on the 
island.  Yet questions remain as to whether Chrysostomos was 
the right person to host such an event and whether the 
conference achieved anything for peace in Cyprus.  Notably 
absent were Turkish Cypriot political and religious leaders, 
even though the Archbishop had informed the Ambassador on 
October 30 that he would invite them and hoped they would 
attend. 
Urbancic

 



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