NICOSIA — Agence France-Presse
Greek Cypriot Maronites hold a poster of Pope Benedict XVI in Paphos on Friday as they wait for the pontiff to arrive on his first official visit to an Orthodox country. AFP photo
Pope Benedict XVI said en route to Greek Cyprus that he was deeply saddened by the killing of a Catholic bishop in Turkey but believed the killing was nonpolitical and would not cloud his pilgrimage.
The pope appeared to accept Turkey's explanation about the killing, saying it was not "a political or religious assassination, it was something personal."
"This has nothing to do with the themes and realities of this trip," the pope told journalists. "We must not give responsibility to Turkey or the Turks."
The Vatican has said the pontiff will make "peace" the central theme of his three-day visit, during which he faces some opposition from the country's majority Orthodox community.
He was to arrive in early afternoon on the eastern Mediterranean island where regional leaders of the Catholic Church have been gathering to welcome him.
One senior cleric who had been scheduled to come was the head of the Roman Catholic Church in Turkey, Bishop Luigi Padovese, who was murdered on Thursday, allegedly by his driver and bodyguard in an attack the Vatican said had left it "deeply dismayed."
But the bishop's personal assistant was quoted by the Misna missionary news agency as saying Padovese had canceled his trip at the last minute.
The driver, a Turkish convert to Christianity with mental health problems, has been arrested and charged for the bishop's murder.
"It is a terrible act, and it leaves us deeply dismayed and naturally very sad," Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi told Vatican Radio.
Lombardi earlier this week had described Monday's Israeli raid on a Gaza-bound aid flotilla, in which nine people were killed, as "a very sad and distressing event for the general climate" in the Middle East.
But he said it would not affect the pontiff's visit to Greek Cyprus, during which he will meet and pray with the island's tiny minority of Roman Catholic faithful, swelled by migrant workers from Asia.
The pontiff's official mission is to hand over a working document for a synod of Middle Eastern bishops to discuss regional issues in October.
In excerpts from the document leaked by Italy's ANSA news agency, the Vatican calls the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories a "political injustice imposed on the Palestinians."
The document criticizes the occupation, saying it "makes daily life difficult for freedom of movement, the economy, and social and religious life."
Lombardi said the document expands on a January text that said Christians and Muslims should face the threat of Islamic extremism together.
Unveiling the pope's program, Lombardi said, "Peace will be the key of this trip," the first by any pope to Greek Cyprus.
The visit is Benedict's first to a mainly Orthodox country and is at the invitation of Greek President Dimitris Christofias and of Archbishop Chrysostomos II, head of the Orthodox Church of Cyprus.
It will emphasize unity among Christian churches and ecumenism, Lombardi said.
Some Greek Cypriot clergy view the pope as a heretic, and a number of bishops have said they will boycott a visit by Benedict to the archbishop's palace.
Influential Bishop Athanasios of Limassol drew a rebuke from Chrysostomos after saying "we love the pope, we love his followers like we do all people, we do not show them contempt or reject them as people, but we do not accept heresy or accept the wrong faith."
Lombardi dismissed the opposition as "marginal."
Pedophilia scandals that have rocked the Roman Catholic Church for months have led to two groups calling for the pope's arrest "as soon as he sets foot in Cyprus," claiming Benedict "has covered up hundreds of crimes against innocent children by pedophile priests."
There have been unconfirmed reports that there might be demonstrations by people incensed over the pedophilia scandal, or angry over the leader of the Roman Catholic Church coming to Orthodox Greek Cyprus.
Some 1,000 police have been deployed to ensure that the pope's visit passes without incident.
On his arrival Friday afternoon in the southwestern resort of Paphos, the pontiff will bless an olive tree to be planted at the airport and then address an "ecumenical celebration" at the ancient church of Agia Kyriaki Chrysopolitissa.
It was there that legend says Saint Paul, visiting the island to spread the new Christian faith, was ordered to be whipped.
The pope will spend Saturday and Sunday in the capital Nicosia, where he will celebrate two masses.
NICOSIA — Agence France-Presse