The Paphos municipal council on Monday approved a proposal by the district’s bishopric to erect a cathedral in the gardens of the town hall despite strong protests by residents.
The municipal council had rejected the proposal by a majority vote earlier this month, but the matter was brought back for discussion at the request of Edek councillors. This followed a letter sent by the Paphos bishop to councillors stating he was ready to compromise on the bishopric’s original plans.
“I feel disgusted,” a Paphos resident told the Cyprus Mail right after the decision was taken.
The proposal passed with 11 votes for, nine against and one abstention. Mayor Phedonas Phedonos and his deputy were among those in favour of the motion.
Scores of Paphos residents had gathered on Monday afternoon outside and inside the town hall where the municipal council was meeting to discuss the Paphos bishopric’s proposal. Bishop Georgios of Paphos was also present.
The decision was met by applause by those supporting the move and angry reaction by opposers who started chanting ‘You’ve sold out”.
The most vitriolic comments were aimed at Edek whose change of stance was decisive in turning things around.
The head of the Edek municipal group said he changed his mind after hearing the bishop saying he would accept the cathedral being built anywhere in the garden and was willing to discuss the size and design of the structure to conform to the neoclassical buildings in the area.
The bishopric will now have to get permission from the Derogations Council and the Cabinet in order to obtain a building permit.
Those opposed to the cathedral said they were furious with one of the Edek councillors, Philippos Philippou, who had voted in favour of constructing the cathedral despite his reassurances that he would not.
Around 300, mainly supporters of the project, had gathered inside the meeting room where the municipal council convened at around 6 pm.
Another 200 people – both supporters and critics of the project – holding posters gathered outside the town hall. Those in favour of the construction of the cathedral chanted a prayer and sang the national anthem.
Last Sunday, the bishop called on his flock through a message read in churches of the district to attend the municipal council’s meeting “to defend Christianity”, the Cyprus Mail has learned.
The disagreement began after the public gardens were returned to the owners, the church, when a long-term agreement expired in 2005. The church had rented it to the municipality on a long lease and instead of continuing the agreement, as the municipality had hoped, the church expressed a desire to build a cathedral on the grounds instead.
The bishop had expressed his intent to apply for a building permit to use one third of the space to create a new cathedral (of around 730 square metres) in exchange for giving the municipality two thirds of the garden. A similar application was turned down in 2010.
Paphos residents opposed to the idea have formed an opposition group, ‘Initiative in support of the preservation and protection of Paphos Municipal Garden’.
“We cannot allow the destruction of the special character of the town centre,” said Akis Vladimirou, adding that there 150-year-old trees in that park.
He added that the city centre already suffers by traffic congestion expressing concerns that a church would add to this problem.