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Media Watch 2003

16 May 2003
Source: Cyprus Mail
Author: George Psyllides
Comment: The following article appeared in the Cyprus Mail of Nicosia on 16 May 2003
Bishop of Morphou thrown out of his own church

TURKISH Cypriot ‘police’ yesterday expelled Bishop Neophytos of Morphou from a church in the occupied areas where he was holding a service for a group of faithful who had crossed over with him.

Bishop Neophytos had gone to the occupied areas in the morning with a couple of dozen elderly Greek Cypriots, accompanied by television crews and journalists. They went to the seat of his diocese, the church of Ayios Mamas in Morphou. The bishop had already crossed over last Thursday and carried out a similar service without incident, pledging he would return to the church every week.

Faithful to his promise, the bishop yesterday began carrying out a liturgy at the church. Just before 11am, just as Bishop Neophytos was chanting the Easter ‘Christos Anesti’ hymn (Christ is Risen), five Turkish Cypriot ‘policemen’ burst into the church shouting “get out” at reporters and camera crews.

The shouting intensified when Bishop Neophytos continued with the hymn and then reporters, the faithful and finally the bishop and his congregation were expelled. The ‘police officers’ claimed the church was a museum and that liturgies were only allowed at Apostolos Andreas monastery at the north easternmost tip of the island. They said the bishop needed special ‘permission’ from the authorities to carry out a church service anywhere else.

“Why are they doing this?” one heartbroken worshipper said.

“We never stop them from practicing their religion in the free areas. Why aren’t we allowed to practice our religion?

“They told us we needed a special licence to carry out a service here and that the only place a priest is allowed to hold a service is at Apostolos Andreas.”

A fuming but collected Bishop Neophytos refused to comment to the media. He tried to proceed to his nearby bishopric – now a museum – but was again escorted out by ‘police’, who also tried to confiscate tapes filmed by the television crew.

A CyBC journalist who witnessed the incident later told state radio it appeared the Turks were more worried about the presence of the camera crews, making sure they were thrown out first.

The bishop then went on to occupied Lefka, but asked the journalists not to accompany him, suggesting their presence may have sparked the Turkish Cypriots’ unease.

The Greek Cypriots accompanying the bishop protested vigorously to ‘police’, arguing Turkish Cypriots visiting their holy places in the government-controlled areas were never treated in such a manner.

Government Spokesman Kypros Chrysostomides last night condemned the incident, saying the government was protesting to the United Nations. He said the bishop’s expulsion from the church – just like the arrest of Greek Cypriots by Turkish Cypriot police – was an illegal act that was being brought to the attention of the UN.

“The occupation regime is uncomfortable because of the fact that the partial lifting of restrictions on the freedom of movement has destroyed Denktash’s argument for separate arrangements in Cyprus,” the apokesman said.

Morphou Mayor Charalambos Pittas told reporters that the incident “was added proof of the intransigent positions of the Turkish Cypriot leader”.

Bishop Neophytos has said he would like to resume residence in Morphou, even under Turkish occupation, and that he felt it was important for Turkish Cypriots to get used to the clerical robe, which for them carried so many negative connotations from the past. He said last month that the Church of Cyprus had been guilty of the sin of nationalism, and has been outspoken in his calls for reconciliation between the two communities."