PAPHOS, Cyprus (Reuters) - Pope Benedict said on Friday the killing of a leading Catholic bishop in Turkey should not be allowed to hurt dialogue with Islam or stain the image of Turkey and its people.
The pope, beginning a three-day visit to the divided island of Cyprus, also told reporters aboard his plane that he hoped the Israeli raid on a Gaza-bound humanitarian flotilla would not result in lost hope for Middle East peace.
Benedict spoke of his “profound sadness” over the stabbing Thursday of Italian Bishop Luigi Padovese, a leading Catholic official in Turkey, who was killed by his Turkish driver.
“We are still awaiting a full explanation but we don’t want to mix up this tragic episode with Islam. It is a case apart which saddens us but should not be allowed to darken the dialogue (with Islam) in any way,” Benedict said.
“We must not attribute this to Turkey or to Turks ... the certain thing is that it was not a political or religious assassination. It was a personal thing.”
Turkish officials say Padovese, a proponent of dialogue with Islam, was killed by his driver, who they say had shown recent signs of mental instability.
Catholic dialogue with Islam has been rocky at best since the pope, in a lecture in his native Germany in 2006, equated Islam with violence. He later said his words were misinterpreted and Vatican and Islamic leaders have since stepped up dialogue.
“Despite our differences, Muslims are our brothers and we have to encourage a common vision of dialogue with them,” he said.
The main purpose of the pope’s trip to Cyprus, in which Padovese was to have participated, is the release Sunday of a working document for a synod of Catholic bishops from the Middle East to be held at the Vatican in October.
The pope, responding to questions previously submitted by reporters, also expressed his concern that the international fury sparked by the Israeli action off the coast of Gaza should not dishearten hopes for Middle East peace.
“With all these episodes (of violence) that we are living through there is always the danger that one loses patience and that people say ‘enough, we can no longer seek peace’,” he said.
“But after all episodes of violence, we must not lose patience, we must not lose the courage and the generosity to start over again in the certainty that we can move ahead, that we can seek peace, in the certainty that violence is not the solution,” he said.
In his arrival address in Paphos in western Cyprus, where St. Paul preached some 2,000 years ago, the pope said he hoped Cypriots would have the patience to “resolve the remaining concerns” about efforts to reunite their island which has been divided since Turkey invaded the north after a brief Greek inspired coup in 1974.
“Cyprus is in need of your words of peace,” Cypriot President Demetris Christofias told Benedict on arrival.
The pope will not be visiting northern Cyprus, which is recognized only by Turkey.
He told reporters on the plane he hoped his trip to the island, which is predominantly Orthodox Christian, could inspire both sides to seek peace.
“I do not come with a political message but with a religious message that should better prepare people’s sentiments to find an opening for peace,” he said.
Editing by Myra MacDonald