Father Jerzy Kraj, an Observant Franciscan, was appointed vicar for Cyprus on Aug. 26 by Latin Patriarch Fouad Twal of Jerusalem, who is responsible for Latin Catholics in the region.
“The Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, the Auxiliary Bishops and all the priests and faithful of the Diocese of the Holy Land welcome the new vicar Father Jerzy Kraj, with assurance of provide their prayers, wishing him all the best in his new mission at the service of Christians on the island of Cyprus,” said a Sept. 6 press release from the Patriarchate of Jerusalem.
The Patriarchate of Jerusalem is the diocese for Latin Catholics in the Holy Land, including Palestine, Israel, Jordan and Cyprus.
Fr. Kraj, who is Polish, succeeds another Observant Franciscan as vicar for Cyprus, Fr. Garret Edmunds.
He was born in 1960 in Zakliczyn, about 20 miles southwest of Tarnow in southern Poland. He attended a high school seminary, and joined the Krakow province of the Order of Friars Minor, Our Lady of the Angels, in 1979.
Fr. Kraj was ordained in 1986 in Jerusalem, after studying at a seminary there. He then obtained a doctorate in moral theology in Rome, and joined the Custody of the Holy Land.
He has served as a seminary rector and professor; led the Christian Information Centre in Jerusalem; and was guardian of two convents, Saint Saviour in Jerusalem and St. Catherine in Bethlehem.
The Patriarchate of Jerusalem estimated that its Cypriot vicariate includes 7,000-8,000 people, the vast majority of them migrant workers from the Philippines, India, Sri Lanka, and Africa. Some 1,700 Cypriots are Latin Catholics.
Among Cypriots, 70 percent are Orthodox Christians. Around 18 percent are Muslim, and there are a few Protestant Christians and other religious minorities. In addition to the Latin Catholics, there is a Maronite diocese which serves some 10,000 faithful.
The island of Cyprus was visited by Saints Paul and Barnabas in the first century, and St. Francis of Assisi traveled there in 1219 on his way to Egypt.
Pope Benedict was the first Pope to visit the majority-Orthodox nation, making a 2010 visit to further friendship and ecumenical dialogue.