Maronites in Cyprus hear the bells of restored Agia Marina Church ring once more [VIDEO]

The restored Church of Agia Marina, located in the Turkish-occupied village of Agia Marina Skyllouras, in the Nicosia District, was handed over today to the Maronite Church, almost a year after the bicommunal Technical Committee on Cultural Heritage started conservation works on site.

A large crowd attended the completion ceremony on Thursday morning, and as the Maronite Archbishop of Cyprus Joseph Soueif entered the packed church, all started to sing with him a psalm in Aramaic.

Former village residents and members of the Church Committee, Ambassadors from EU member states, representatives of the UN and the EU and other people attended the ceremony in the 14th century church, dedicated to the village’s patron Saint.

After hearing the bells ring once more, the ceremony started, with officials expressing messages of reconciliation, peaceful coexistence, as well as the desire of many to return. As Takis Hadjidemetriou, the Greek Cypriot member of the Technical Committee put it, what we are looking at today seems like an impossible dream.

He referred to the various difficulties the Technical Committee encountered while embarking on this project and recalled the moment that they got the message you may proceed.

This work is the result of what we can achieve by overcoming obstacles when we work together, he said. These monuments with their deep roots in history ask for our protection and love and awaken the prospect of return, Hadjidemetriou added.

Ali Tuncay, the Turkish Cypriot member of the Technical Committee referred to the village’s shared history, as it was inhabited both by Maronite Christians and Turkish Cypriots who lived together for centuries.

The Technical Committee on Cultural Heritage advocates that we can be effective only when we work and produce results together, he said. He also wished this spirit of cooperation to multiply in other areas as well, for the benefit of Turkish Cypriots and Greek Cypriots.

Ioannis Karis, a Maronite member of the Technical Committee said that this is a historic day for the Maronite community and Church and especially for the Agia Marina community.

UNFICYP supports you every step of the way, said Elizabeth Spehar, the Special Representative of the UN Secretary General in Cyprus and Head of the peacekeeping mission.

The conservation of Agia Marina ensures that the Maronite community in Cyprus, including children and grandchildren, will be able to connect with their heritage, relishing in their identity and practicing their religion in the same church as their ancestors, she said.

That accomplishment, along with the other initiatives by the Technical Committee can serve as an inspiration for the entire island, Spehar added. The UN official also expressed hope that access to all religious sites in the island will continue to increase.

Tiziana Zennaro, the UNDP Cyprus Programme Manager noted on her part that for the third time in little more than a month we are able to convey a strong positive message of trust, cooperation and mutual respect. She was referring to the conservation works in the monastery of Agios Panteleimon, in Turkish-occupied Myrtou as well as in the Holy Cross Church in Turkish-occupied Karpasha, all completed last month.

UNDP, together with the EU and other donors, are committed to continue supporting the efforts of the bicommunal Technical Committee, Zennaro added.

The project started in July 2016 and works finished last March, with an overall budget of 160,000 euros, completely funded by the EU.

Michaela Foresti, Head of the European Commission’s Programme Team said that since 2012, 11.7 mln euros have been provided by the EU to implement the priorities of the Technical Committee, through the Aid Programme for the Turkish Cypriot community.

She also announced that the Commission will propose the allocation of an additional 2 mln euros for the conservation of cultural heritage in 2017, with approval expected in the second half of the year.

The Maronite Archbishop also addressed the crowd and referred to the work of the Technical Committee, noting that it is a sign of hope for our beloved Cyprus. Its members, he went on, fight against all obstacles, in order to say that this is Cyprus, this is how we want to live now and in the future.

He also said that Agia Marina provides a strategic example for Confidence Building Measures, as it is a village that proves that people can live together in this place.

Speaking about Sunday’s dinner in New York, to be attended by the UN Secretary General and the two leaders of Cyprus, President Anastasiades and Turkish Cypriot leader Akinci, Archbishop Soueif said we want them to succeed and we hope to have a reunited Cyprus.

There is no room for conflict, hatred and divisions, Cyprus must be an oasis of peace in the region, the Archbishop concluded.

Agia Marina residents recount their stories

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Two former residents who were forced to flee the village following the 1974 Turkish invasion, spoke to CNA about how life used to be there. Antonis and Filio Mela sit in the church yard recounting their wedding ceremony back in 1958 in this very same Church.

This is the Church we got married in Melas says, but notes that the place has changed a lot ever since. It used to be alive in contrast to what it is today, he says.

The former resident, once a teacher in the local school before embarking on his career as a broadcaster, says he is moved by today’s ceremony.

Church functions were attended both by Maronites and Turkish Cypriots, he remembers, but ties were lost after people were forcibly displaced.

Hope, along with memory, never vanish, Melas says and expresses optimism that the island will be eventually reunified and people will live as they did before.

Cyprus has been divided since 1974 when Turkish troops invaded and occupied the island’s northern third. President Anastasiades and Turkish Cypriot leader Akinci have been engaged in UN-led talks since May 2015 with a view to reunite the island under a federal roof.

Source: Cyprus News Agency