Pope Benedict XVI ends his visit to Cyprus on Sunday with his eyes to the Middle East, giving bishops from the troubled region the working paper for a synod to be held on the plight of Christians, on ecumenism and inter-faith dialogue.
Wrapping up a round of meetings with political leaders, the head of the Orthodox Church and the local flock of Roman Catholic faithful, the pontiff was celebrating an indoor morning mass at Nicosia's Eleftheria sports centre.
Around 10,000 people are attending, including pilgrims from Syria, Jordan and Lebanon waving their national flags and those of the Vatican.
Their numbers were swelled by many immigrant workers from India, Sri Lanka and the Philippines.
After presenting the working paper, Benedict will have lunch with the prelates from the Middle East and visit the cathedral of the Maronite church, one of the many in the region in communion with Rome.
A central theme of the pontiff's trip to Orthodox Cyprus, one of the first countries to embrace the Christian faith, has been closer relations with other churches and dialogue with other faiths, particularly Islam.
"Much still needs to be done throughout the world," the 83-year-old pontiff said on Saturday.
"Only by patient work can mutual trust be built, the burden of history overcome and the political and cultural differences between peoples become a motive to work for deeper understanding," he said.
He also evoked the difficult conditions under which so many Christians, generally a minority, live in the overwhelmingly Muslim Middle East.
"No one can remain indifferent to the need to support in every way possible the Christians of that troubled region, so that its ancient churches can live in peace and flourish," he said.
But at the beginning of his trip, he said that "we must be able to talk to our Muslim brothers and pursue this dialogue toward a more fruitful co-existence."
That openness bore unexpected and poignant fruit on Saturday, just as the pope was about to celebrate mass at a church in the U.N. buffer zone that separates the Greek Cypriot south from the Turkish-controlled north.
The Sufi mystic
As he was about to process into the church, he was approached by an elderly Sufi Muslim mystic who had travelled from the north to greet him.
The man, known as Sheikh Nazim, embraced him warmly and asked for his prayers.
"I will pray for you, and you pray for me," the 83-year pontiff said.
But the pope is keenly aware of what the church sees as the danger of some militants in Islam.
A draft working document for the synod presented in January, said "extremist (Islamic) currents, clearly a threat to everyone, Christians and Muslims alike require a treatment in common."
"This attitude, though primarily concerning Muslim society, has an impact on the Christian presence in the Middle East," lamented the document containing guidelines for reflection ahead of the October 10-24 synod.
Christians and Muslims "must be seen to be citizens of the same country and homeland, sharing the same language and culture, not to mention the same fortunes and misfortunes of our countries," the paper said.
Benedict's visit to Cyprus is the first ever by any pope and his first to an Orthodox country.
While he characterized the trip as a pilgrimage focusing on faith, he nonetheless expressed concern for the political problems plaguing Cyprus.
The country was invaded by Turkey in 1974 in reaction to a Greek Cypriot coup seeking unification with Greece, and the northern third has been occupied by Turkish troops since then.
Both President Demetris Christofias and Cypriot Archbishop Chrysostomos II called on the pope for his prayers for an end to the division.
"May the love of your families and the desire to live in harmony with your neighbors" under God's protection "inspire you patiently to resolve the remaining concerns that you share, with the international community, for the future of your island," the pope said on Friday.