Cyprus Church Offers Assistance in Financial Crisis
(NEW YORK) -- Politicians and financiers are scrambling to agree on a deal that would bail out Cyprus and its banks, which are badly in need of a $20 billion loan. Possible solutions include nationalizing pensions, selling a bank to Russia, or -- troubling to bank customers the world over -- taking money out of average Cypriot savers' bank accounts. But might they also have a more divine savior?
The head of Cyprus' Orthodox Church, Archbishop Chrysostomos II, has offered to mortgage the church's assets to help get Cyprus out of its financial hole. How much does it have? In an interview with ABC News, Chrysostomos said the church's land and hotels were worth somewhere in the billions.
Not enough to bail out Cyprus by itself, he admitted, but enough so that Cyprus doesn't have to grovel and live by stringent demands that come with European Union loans.
"The solution will come from within and we have to stand on our own two feet, without anyone's help," said the archbishop, wearing a simple blue cassock, in his office in central Nicosia. "If I don't help my country, my country will collapse. If the people suffer, the church will also suffer the same fate."
Chrysostomos and his aides declined to provide a list of what the church owns, but it is believed to be the country's largest landholder. Chrysostomos said he planned to mortgage the land as well as hotels as collateral. The church is also the largest shareholder of a Cypriot beer and a major shareholder in Hellenic Bank, but aides said those assets were publicly held and therefore not free for the church to mortgage on its own.
"We are going to give our whole fortune to the government," Chrysostomos said.
Chrysostomos praised Cypriot parliamentarians for rejecting a plan that would have taken money out of bank accounts in order to help pay for the loan. He did not mince words for the European financiers and politicians who drafted the deal, and argued Cyprus should be willing to leave the Eurozone.
"Cyprus is an equal member of the European Union. Unfortunately, all these leaders treated us unfairly," he said. "These minds that these European leaders have -- I believe they will destroy Europe by themselves. So I suggest we have to leave them before they destroy the European Union."
Chrysostomos has called for all Cypriots to sacrifice to help pay back the country's debts. He urged the president to create a national bond, and in the interview said he hoped the church was setting an example to the country's richest residents -- "so they will help also."
Chrysostomos spoke softly, surrounded by impressive art and a long table ringed by gold and wooden chairs. By the time he finished speaking to ABC News, a line of people waited outside his office. He said he believes the church holds considerable moral weight in Cyprus and that people will follow its lead in helping the government find a solution.
"Most of the people will support the government," he says. "They are going to listen to the voice of the church, which is the mother of all of us."
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