Maronite Archbishop Joseph Soueif of Cyprus, one of two candidates to be the next president of Caritas International, has said that caring for creation means putting the human being first. “The motto of this conference is ‘One human family, care for creation.’ One human family means all of us, diverse cultures and societies, we are one,” the archbishop told CNA May 13. “This is the purpose of this conference. We are one to care for creation, it means to care for the human being first, the poor (and) the marginalized, and for nature, creation, which God did for us, and what God did for us is good,” he said. Archbishop Soueif not only oversees Cyprus’ Catholic population, but is also the president of the country’s Caritas branch. He is in Rome for Caritas International’s 20th general assembly, which is taking place May 12-17. In addition to providing a strategic framework to anchor Caritas' work over the next four years, delegates will also elect the organization’s new leadership. According to the organization’s statutes, delegates of Caritas International can select a set of candidates for the top posts of president, secretary and treasurer, which must then be submitted to the Pope, who will eventually approve them. The current president of Caritas is Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga of Tegucigalpa, and its secretary-general is Michel Roy, who was formerly head of Caritas' French branch. Roy is the sole candidate for the post of secretary-general on this year's ballot for new leadership. He has held the position since 2011, and is certain to be confirmed. Cardinal Maradiaga will step down as president, having served two mandates, from 2007-2011, and 2011-2015. Both Archbishop Soueif and Cardinal Antonio Tagle of Manila have been identified as candidates to assume the role of president. Voting is set to take place on Thursday. Archbishop Soueif is prominent in Caritas Europe, and has also received the implicit endorsement of the Council of European Bishops Conference. Supporters of Archbishop Soueif note that he is well aware of the difficult situation Christians face worldwide, since he is both a native of Lebanon and the sole Catholic bishop of an island divided in two, where Christians suffer numerous persecutions. The archbishop is also aware of European issues, since he is a member of the Commission of the Bishops of the European Union. The next Caritas president is expected to foster Caritas International’s new statutes, which were issued by Benedict XVI in 2012. The new statutes put the organization under the umbrella of the Pontifical Council Cor Unum, and stress the need for a unique identity among each of the various Caritas branches. In his comments to CNA, Archbishop Soueif said that Pope Francis’ frequent call to have “a poor Church for the poor” is not just a theory, but an initiative that requires daily commitment. He referred to the Pope’s commission for Caritas workers to go out and meet those on the peripheries of society during his May 12 opening Mass for the assembly, saying, “we are all the peripheries.” Each person and local Caritas can be considered on the periphery in the sense that “we are called to live in solidarity with people who unfortunately society, and … social structures, are abandoning.” Current needs in Cyprus center on the reunification of the island, which was effectively partitioned in 1974 when the Turkish-controlled north broke away following a brief Greek-inspired coup. The northern third of the island is currently inhabited by Turkish Cypriots, while Greek Cypriots make up the southern two-thirds. The self-declared Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus is diplomatically isolated, and is only recognized by Turkey. Compensation for those displaced in the conflict continues to be one of the most contentious issues in ongoing peace talks, which are set to continue Friday after they broke off last year following a Monday meeting negotiated by the U.N. in Nicosia, BBC News reports. With a Greek Orthodox majority in the south and a Turkish Muslim majority in the north, Cyprus has also been religiously divided. Catholics account for only about two percent of the population. Christians on the island have faced ongoing difficulty and persecution, and churches are frequently vandalized or broken into. One of society’s biggest challenges, particularly in Cyprus, the archbishop said, “is that the other is not well-accepted. Differences are not accepted.” “We need to strengthen the culture of acceptance of others, of the differences, so diversity but in unity.” Caritas, the Church, and all religious groups need to work for the reunification of the island “based on the reconciliation of hearts, on peace (and) on justice, because Cyprus has an important role as a bridge between the Middle East, the Arab countries, Europe, and also Africa.”
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