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Pope, Sufi Muslim mystic have unscheduled meeting on Cyprus

NICOSIA — Agence France-Presse | 6/5/2010 12:00:00 AM |

Pope Benedict XVI had a brief unscheduled meeting on Saturday in Greek Cyprus with a well-known Sufi Muslim mystic who traveled from the north of the divided island to see him, the Vatican said.

Pope Benedict XVI had a brief unscheduled meeting on Saturday in Greek Cyprus with a well-known Sufi Muslim mystic who traveled from the north of the divided island to see him, the Vatican said.

The frail 88-year-old known as Sheikh Nazim met the pope at Nicosia's Franciscan church of the Holy Cross in the U.N. buffer zone, just before the pontiff celebrated mass there, spokesman Federico Lombardi said.

The pope was already standing in line to begin the service and stopped the procession to greet him.

"Excuse me, but I am old," Nazim told the pope, who replied: "I am old, too."

Nazim presented Benedict with an engraved walking stick, a plaque and a set of Muslim prayer beads.

Before they parted, Nazim asked the pope to pray for him.

"I will pray for you, and you pray for me," he replied.

The itinerary of Benedict's landmark three-day visit to Cyprus did not include a visit to Turkish Cyprus.

On Friday, the leader of the Muslim community there, Mufti Yusuf Suecmez, said he had offered to meet with the pope, and Lombardi said that was a "concrete possibility."

On Saturday, he said "we were expecting the mufti," but did not elaborate.

The pontiff is keen to improve relations between the church and Islam, and in Greek Cyprus renewed calls for greater dialogue between faiths.

Cypriot-born Sheikh Nazim has a commune in Turkish Cyprus and followers around the world.

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