Belief Beat

I’ve been scaling back on PopeWatch posts, but here’s something I found personally interesting: Catholic News Agency reports that Cyprus’ ambassador to the Holy See asserts that Pope Benedict’s upcoming visit to my mother’s homeland will be a “massive moral influence” on the divided Mediterranean island.

Here are my top five reasons why this statement is unintentionally hilarious, with help from an informal panel of Cypriots from both sides of the island’s Green Line:

1. Hardly anyone in Cyprus is Catholic. (CNA estimates the Catholic population at 3 percent, which is probably on the high side, because it looks like this doesn’t factor in the predominantly Muslim population of the Turkish-occupied north.)

2. Most Cypriots don’t care about the papal visit. During my recent stay, I found only one person — not including journalists — who even vaguely knew the pope is coming in a few weeks. (On the bright side, this probably means he’ll get a break from the demonstrations that targeted him during his Malta and Portugal trips.)

3. Pope Benedict isn’t visiting the Turkish-occupied north — a missed photo opportunity to simultaneously push for ethnic reconciliation and the restoration of the Apostolos Andreas monastery (a World Heritage site and the “Lourdes of Cyprus”). Perhaps this is due to security concerns, but in any case, how can he be a moral influence for peace when he isn’t even visiting both sides of the conflict?

4. Given the clergy sex abuse scandal plaguing the Vatican and wrenching the souls of Catholics around the world, is Pope Benedict really in a position to be a “massive moral influence” on a non-Catholic country?

5. What, exactly, is the “moral” problem in Cyprus that a papal visit could influence, anyway? The political cronyism? The rabid football (soccer) fandom? The boozing, topless tourists? (Pope Benedict would be more effective addressing the hungover masses once they’re back in England during his planned September visit there — assuming he’s not too busy dodging protesters calling for his arrest — and in his native Germany.)

Having said all that, there is one moral issue Pope Benedict could address: the treatment of the country’s tens of thousands of Filipino and Sri Lankan domestic workers, including Catholics who would be thrilled to see him. But, it doesn’t look like he has any specific plans to meet with them — his itinerary has a vague reference to meeting with the island’s Catholics on Saturday morning, but the workers usually only get Sundays off.

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