President Nikos Christodoulides met Pope Francis on Friday at the Vatican, accompanied by his wife Philippa Karsera and Cypriot officials.
Christodoulides and Pope Francis had a private meeting, followed by an audience where the pontiff received the Cypriot delegation.
During the meeting, Pope Francis presented the President with a medal depicting the Basilica of St Peter, while Christodoulides gifted him a silver replica of an olive tree, symbolising peace.
The president and the Cypriot delegation also met the Cardinal Secretary of State of Vatican City Pietro Parolin.
“It was a visit of particular importance and symbolism, the first for the president, especially given the approaching 50th anniversary since the establishment of diplomatic relations between Cyprus and the Holy See,” government spokesman Konstantinos Letymbiotis said.
According to him, discussions between the president and the Pontiff included regional developments, Cyprus’s initiative to create a maritime corridor for humanitarian aid to the civilian population of Gaza, concerns regarding potential escalation in the region, and Cyprus’ efforts as a regional state to de-escalate the crisis.
Additionally, the discussion involved migration issues. Cyprus and Italy, as front-line EU states, face significant migrant flows, aligning their common goals with the Vatican’s leadership.
The two also addressed the Cyprus problem and Cyprus’s efforts to resume negotiations from where they were left off, as well as endeavours to preserve and protect religious and cultural heritage in the north of the island. Christodoulides also informed the Pope about the alarming state of over 500 religious and cultural monuments in the north, including Maronite churches, facing the risk of collapse.
Following the engagements at the Vatican, Christodoulides met a delegation of executives of Italian energy giant ENI in Rome, a meeting that Letymbiotis deemed of significant importance.
“The presence of the President in Rome was the catalyst for this important meeting,” Letymbiotis said.
“ENI is active in multiple segments of the Cyprus Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), and the country’s energy plans are in full flow.”
The spokesperson added that talks focused on the alignment between Cyprus’ natural resources and ENI’s future interests in the area.
Letymbiotis added that especially after the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the extraction and utilisation of Cypriot natural gas gained particular importance for the entire EU in its efforts for energy independence from Russian gas.
“Cyprus’ energy plans are progressing as usual. By the beginning of 2024, we expect to see how ENI’s work will progress to complete our energy planning,” Letymbiotis said.
Meanwhile, Cyprus and Italy agreed on a road map to strengthen bilateral relations in meetings held by the president with his counterpart in Rome, Sergio Mattarella and Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni.
Speaking to the press on Thursday, the president said the meetings had been lengthy and productive and mentioned the two countries have historical ties and common challenges such as migration.
Christodoulides said he was briefed by Meloni on migration flows and initiatives undertaken by Italy regarding Syrian asylum seekers.