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Pope, in Cyprus, Appeals for Embattled Christians


Pope Benedict has urged the diverse groups on the island of Cyprus and the surrounding region to strive for peace and reconciliation.

The pontiff met Saturday with Cypriot President Dimitris Christofias and the island's Maronite Christian community. Maronite Archbishop Youssef Soueif asked the pope to help return displaced Maronites to their homes in the northern, Turkish-held part of Cyprus.

President Christofias denounced the 1974 Turkish invasion of northern Cyprus, echoing the words of Orthodox Archbishop Chrysostomos. The leader of the island's Orthodox Christian community spoke with the pope shortly after his arrival in Cyprus Friday.

Pope Benedict did not comment on the division of Cyprus, but he urged its people to find harmony. The Vatican had said peace would be the key theme of the pontiff's three-day pilgrimage to the Mediterranean island.

Many bishops from the region have traveled to Cyprus to meet with the pope.

A leading Turkish Catholic bishop was killed Thursday in eastern Turkey before his departure for Cyprus. Turkish officials said his driver was charged with his murder, which they say was not politically motivated. They say the suspect is mentally unstable.

Pope Benedict expressed "sadness" about the killing of Bishop Luigi Padovese, but he said it should not hurt Catholic dialogue with Islam, or reflect on Turkey and its people.

Pope Benedict is not scheduled to visit the Turkish-controlled part of Cyprus during this visit.

The island is split between a Greek Cypriot south and a Turkish Cypriot north. Greek Cypriots have accused the Turkish north of destroying Orthodox churches or turning them into shops and restaurants. The Turkish side says the Greeks have wrecked mosques in the south.

The majority of Cypriots are Greek Orthodox Christians, who sometimes also clash with the Roman Catholic minority.

Some information for this report was provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.

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