Tough times for Buddhist temple

By Jean Christou, Cyprus Mail, Oct 23, 2005

Strovolos, Cyprus -- PEACEFUL Buddhist worshippers in Strovolos have had their faith tested by an unfriendly neighbour who set the authorities on them, and had police visit them on the pretext of having a mass of “unsightly shoes” outside the temple door.

The temple, formerly a Buddhist information centre, and only set up in July this year as a place of worship, was to become a haven for mainly Sri Lankan Buddhists who had no place to pray in Cyprus until now.

However, within two months they received a letter from a junior Strovolos municipality official telling them they had not secured a permit to change the centre into a place of worship.

?You are hereby urged to return the aforementioned building to its original use. Otherwise all the force of the law will be put into effect without further notice.?

What the letter failed to say was that the Buddhist leaders could apply to the Town Planning Department to change the use of the building and could receive an extension from the Municipality until the application had been approved or not.

The senior officer of the man who sent the letter said he could not say who made the complaint, although it is known that the vast majority of the people living in the area have no problem at all with the temple.

They say worshippers are quiet and unobtrusive and most do not have cars to cause any traffic problems when they congregate. ?It?s not like they make any noise. They meditate for heaven?s sake,? said one neighbour.

Not only was the letter a shock, but police visited the temple twice to complain, sources told the Sunday Mail. The first time, they mentioned the lack of a permit and the second time said someone had complained about the pairs of shoes left out, saying they were ?unsightly?.

Temple members then built a special covering at the back to house the shoes.

The situation forced Strovolos Mayor Savvas Iliofotou to intervene.
?I have already let it be known that it would have been better if the letter had ended with advice on where they could apply for a permit and what procedures they would have to pass through,? he told the Sunday Mail.
?Most probably they are going to get a permit. I talked to them personally and brought the head of building permits here and they left from here very sure with all the information how to do their job better.?

He said the municipality would give them an extension for as long as they needed.

Iliofotou said despite the fact the complaint may have been made with bad intent, it was up to his office to investigate each and every complaint.

?We are dealing everyday with problems and we don?t know how they were created,? he said.

He said in fact the police did not have any say in visiting premises and warning about building permits.

?They should answer why (they did this). This is generally not the responsibility of the police but we don?t know what kind of complaint they received. Sometimes they make mistakes,? he added.

?I want to state very clearly that we feel very friendly toward these people who come to live in Cyprus and we love them and we want to help them to have a comfortable quality of life. This should be clear to everybody,? he said.

A priest at the temple, speaking through an interpreter said as far as they were concerned everything was now okay. ?We can stay,? he said.