A Latin bishop returns to the island of Cyprus: the Franciscan Bruno Varriano

A Latin bishop returns to the island of Cyprus: the Franciscan Bruno Varriano

A historic moment: this is how it was defined by the Patriarch of the Latins Pierbattista Pizzaballa who presided over the Mass at the Filoxenia centre in Nicosia on Saturday 16 March for the ordination of fr. Bruno Varriano as Bishop of Astigi, thus becoming the new auxiliary bishop of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem on Cyprus.

The last presence of a Latin bishop at the service of the island of Cyprus goes back 340 years.

A numerous and warm participation

The importance of the long-awaited event was emphasized by the participation of figures and authorities from many parts of the world:  H.B. Fouad Twal, Patriarch Emeritus of Jerusalem of the Latins, Mons. Giovanni Pietro Dal Toso, Apostolic nuncio in Jordan and Cyprus, Mons. Adolfo Tito Ylana, Apostolic nuncio in Israel, Mons. Mauro Lalli, Chargé d‘Affaires for Cyprus, Mons. Salvatore Pennacchio, Archbishop Moussa El Hajj, Mons. Hanna Jallouf and many others. This was also a sign of the great esteem and affection of all those present for Fr. Bruno.

There was also a large community from the Custody: the Custos of the Holy Land, Fr. Francesco Patton, wanted to be present together with the Vicar Fr. Ibrahim Faltas, the Discreets Fr. John Luke Gregory and Fr. Alessandro Coniglio and other Franciscans who have shared their services in the various communities with Fr. Bruno.

Without any doubt, the  most conspicuous presence sharing this important moment was the community of faithful who wanted to accompany their pastor: a heterogeneous community, made up to a great majority of immigrants from the Philippines, Sri Lanka, India and French-speaking African countries.

Pizzaballa: the heart of Christian life is Christ and nothing else

“The decision to have a Latin bishop on Cyprus, dear Father Bruno, is linked to the mission not of restoring, but serving,” Cardinal Pizzaballa began.  “We are not here to celebrate the restoration of an ancient glory. We are and we remain a small part of the Catholic Church, in a wider religious context, in particular Greek Orthodox but not only, with which we intend to collaborate in a spirit of harmony and respect, and we are always grateful for its kindness.”

Cardinal Pizzaballa recalled the pastoral challenges that have affected life on Cyprus and that “require an increasingly solid ecclesial presence, and a different and more courageous pastoral service, extended to all our faithful, scattered over the island, and not infrequently in very fragile social situations.”

Then he addressed Fr. Bruno directly: “You must remind our communities spread all over the island that the heart of Christian life is Christ and nothing else. The first and I would say only pastoral plan that you have to present is to bear witness that meeting Christ is the most beautiful thing that can happen to a person and that a Christian community draws life from the Eucharist, before any other activity.”

Great participation in the rite of the episcopal ordination

The warm words of Card. Pizzaballa were part of a celebration where the solemn rites were guided impeccably by the Master of Ceremonies Fr. Rodrigo Machado Soares, allowing an intimate participation of those present in the special liturgy of the episcopal ordination, made up of many signs and symbols.

These include the touching moment of the imposition of the hands on the head by Card. Fortunato Trezza and of H.E. Selim Sfeir Archbishop of Cyprus and of all the bishops present, and the following prayer of ordination, with which the gift of the Holy Spirit for the episcopal ministry was conferred. At the end, the imposition of the book of the Gospels on his head reminded Fr. Bruno  that the main task of a bishop is preaching the Word, to which he himself is submitted. The special liturgy then included anointing his head and investing him with the pastoral staff, the ring and the mitre.

The choir, made up of about 100 elements, also fostered participation in  the liturgical ceremony, during which songs chosen from different repertoires and in different languages followed on one another. Sister Antonia, head of the choir, wanted to emphasize the emotion of all the members of the choir – Filipinos, South Africans and Cypriots – from the cities of Limassol and Nicosia.

The words of Mons. Bruno Varriano

The newly ordained bishop, Mons. Bruno Varriano, at the end of the celebration wanted to thank all those who had allowed this celebration: “I think everyone for their encouragement. I remember my post in Nazareth, where I lived for 9 years: it is close to Mary o Nazareth and St Joseph that I was able to mature my “yes” to this new mission. I would like to thank the Patriarchate and all the priests and seminarians for their closeness and affection.” He is moved when he addresses his through to “his religious family”: “Thank you to all the friars of the Custody of the Holy Land. Thank you, Father Custos, for having accompanied me in this time, accompanying  me back  to the essential.  Particular and special thanks to the Maronite Church: we are a single entity which walks together fraternally.”

Mons. Bruno’s attachment to the Virgin Mary remains clear in his episcopal motto “Secundum verbum tuum” (“According to Your word”), the words that the angel says to Mary, chosen as the programme of her service. Fr. Bruno’s Franciscan origin can also be seen on his coat-of-arms, through the two arms which cross in the centre with a cross: this is the symbol of the Order founded by St Francis of Assisi. 

The conspicuous presence today of Catholics of all  nationalities and origins,” said the Custos of the Holy Land, fr. Francesco Patton at the end of the celebration, “reminds us how Fr. Bruno, as well as the pastoral activity with the local community, is doing enormous work with the migrant workers, who now form the majority of the Latin community, as well as the activity with the refugees who arrive in large numbers in particular on this island in the Mediterranean.”

On Sunday, March 17th 2024, Msgr. Bruno Varriano, Patriarchal Vicar of Cyprus, presided over his first Pontifical Mass at the Holy Cross Church, Nicosia.

Silvia Giuliano