PAPHOS, Cyprus - A Greek Cypriot leader made a blistering attack on Turkey for its occupation of northern Cyprus as Pope Benedict XVI began a pilgrimage to the divided island Friday bringing a message of peace to the region.
Addressing Benedict, the head of Cyprus' Orthodox Church, Archbishop Chrysostomos II said that "Turkey has barbarously invaded and conquered by force of arms 37 percent of our homeland."
Chrysostomos said that Turkey "continues to carry out its obscure plans, which include the annexation of the land now under military occupation, and then a conquest of the whole of Cyprus."
His comments came as Benedict began a three-day visit to Cyprus, an island nation divided between ethnic Turks and Greeks and viewed by the Vatican as a bridge between Europe and the Middle East.
Chrysostomos also said the Turks "ruthlessly sacked" Christian artworks, saying they were seeking to make Greek and Christian culture disappear from the north.
He urged the pope's help to ensure protection of sacred Christian monuments and in the struggle against the Turks.
The pope did not respond to the archbishop's remarks. Instead, Benedict spoke of the cooperation between Catholics and Orthodox Christians.
Earlier, the pope also declined to blame Turkey for the killing of a Catholic bishop in Turkey on the eve of his trip to Cyprus. In remarks to journalists aboard the plane to Cyprus, Benedict said he was deeply saddened by the killing Thursday of Bishop Luigi Padovese, but believed the killing was nonpolitical and would not cloud his trip.
Turkish officials have said Padovese was killed by his driver, who has been charged with murder and appears to be mentally unstable.
The pope appeared to accept Turkey's explanation about the killing, saying it was not "a political or religious assassination; it was something personal."
Still, the pope spoke in his arrival remarks of the "challenges that Catholics face, sometimes in trying circumstances" in the Middle East. He made only an indirect reference to Cyprus' division, urging patience to resolve "the future of your island."
A papal spokesman said that while there were no plans for Benedict to visit the Turkish-occupied north, he may meet with a Muslim delegation from the area before he departs for Rome on Sunday evening.