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Bishop’s murder clouds papal trip to Cyprus

In Uncategorized on June 4, 2010 at 10:16 am

NICOSIA (AFP) – Pope Benedict XVI arrives in Cyprus Friday on a three-day visit clouded by the murder of a Catholic bishop in Turkey and amid regional tension over a deadly Israeli raid on a pro-Palestinian aid flotilla.

The Vatican has said the pontiff will make “peace” the central theme of his visit, during which he faces some opposition from the country’s majority Orthodox community.

Children have their photo taken in front of a huge poster of Pope Benedict XVI in Nicosia. AFP photo

He arrives early afternoon on the eastern Mediterranean island where regional leaders of the Catholic Church have been gathering to welcome him.

Absent, however, will be the head of the Roman Catholic Church in Turkey, Bishop Luigi Padovese, who was murdered on Thursday, apparently by his driver and bodyguard in an attack which the Vatican said had left it “deeply dismayed.”

The driver, a Turkish convert to Christianity with mental health problems, has been arrested for the bishop’s murder in the garden of his summer house in a seaside town near Iskenderun.

“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 Cyprus, during which he will meet and pray with the island’s small 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 criticises 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 programme, Lombardi said “peace will be the key of this trip,” the first by any pope to Cyprus.

The visit is Benedict’s first to a mainly Orthodox country and is at the invitation of President Demetris Christofias and of Archbishop Chrysostomos II, head of the Orthodox Church of Cyprus.

It will emphasise unity among Christian churches and ecumenism, Lombardi said.

Some 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.”

Paedophilia 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 paedophile priests.”

There have been unconfirmed reports that there might be demonstrations by people incensed over the paedophilia scandal, or angry over the leader of the Roman Catholic Church coming to Orthodox 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 Nicosia, where he will celebrate two masses.

Source: SGGP

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