Pope prays with cleric at Turkey mosque
By BRIAN MURPHY, AP Religion Writer
Thu Nov 30, 9:47 PM ET
ISTANBUL, Turkey - Pope Benedict
XVI joined an Islamic cleric in prayers under the towering dome of Istanbul's
most famous mosque Thursday in a powerful gesture seeking to transform his
image among Muslims from adversary to peacemaker.
The pope's minute of prayer was done in silence, but the message of reconciliation
was designed to resonate loudly nearly three months after he provoked worldwide
fury for remarks on violence and the Prophet Muhammad.
"This visit will help us find together the way of peace for the good of all
humanity," the pope said inside the 17th-century Blue Mosque — in only the
second papal visit in history to a Muslim place of worship. Benedict's predecessor,
John Paul II, made a brief stop in a mosque in
Syria in 2001.
Benedict's steps through a stone archway and into the mosque's carpeted expanse
capped a day of deep symbolism and lofty goals. Hours earlier, he stood beside
the spiritual leader of the world's Orthodox Christians and passionately
encouraged steps to end the nearly 1,000-year divide between their churches.
The pope walked to the mosque after touring another majestic tribute to faith:
the 1,500-year-old Haghia Sofia and its remarkable mix of Quranic calligraphy
and Christian mosaics from its legacy as a marvel of early Christianity and
then a coveted prize of Islam's expansion.
At the mosque, the pope removed his shoes and put on white slippers. Then
he walked beside Mustafa Cagrici, the head cleric of Istanbul. Facing the
holy city of Mecca — in the tradition of Islamic worship — Cagrici said:
"Now I'm going to pray." Benedict, too, bowed his head and his lips moved
as if reciting words.
Before the pope left, he thanked Cagrici "for this moment of prayer."
"A single swallow can't bring spring," Cagrici told the pope, who ends his
first papal trip to a Muslim nation Friday. "But many swallows will follow
and we will enjoy a spring in this world."
The pope received a painting showing the Sea of Marmara and a glazed tile
decorated with a dove. The mosque is officially known as the Sultan Ahmet
Mosque after the Ottoman sultan Ahmet I, who ordered its construction. But
it's widely called the Blue Mosque after its elaborate blue tiles.
The pope presented the imam with a mosaic showing four doves.
"Let us pray for brotherhood and for all humanity," Benedict said in Italian.
The Vatican spokesman, the Rev.
Federico Lombardi, said the mosque visit was added as a "sign of respect"
to Muslims. "A (Christian) believer can pray in any place, even a mosque,"
Lombardi said, calling it an "intimate, personal prayer."
The pope has offered wide-ranging messages of reconciliation to Muslims since
coming to Turkey on Tuesday, including appeals for greater understanding
and support for Turkey's effort to become the first Muslim nation in the
But Benedict also has set down his own demands.
The pope repeated calls for greater freedoms for religious minorities — including
the tiny Christian community in Turkey — and denounced divisions between
Christians as a "scandal."
Benedict has made reaching out to the world's more than 250 million Orthodox
a centerpiece of his papacy and has set the difficult goal of "full unity"
between the two ancient branches of Christianity, which split in the 11th
century over disputes including papal authority.
"The divisions which exist among Christians are a scandal to the world,"
the pope said after joining Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I to mark the
feast day of St. Andrew, who preached across Asia Minor and who tradition
says ordained the first bishop of Constantinople, now Istanbul.
The homage of the Orthodox feast day Liturgy also was highly significant
to Roman Catholics. Andrew was the brother of St. Peter, who was martyred
in Rome and is considered the first pope.
In a joint statement, the pope and patriarch stressed the need to "preserve
Christian roots" in European culture while remaining "open to other religions
and their cultural contributions."
The comments could send conflicting signals to Turkey after the Vatican suggested
there was room in the EU for its first Muslim member. They could also serve
as a rallying point for groups opposed to bringing a predominantly Muslim
country into the bloc.
The pope also recalled how the faith was shaped by the encounters of early
Christians with the scientific and intellectual traditions of ancient Greece.
It was the same theological backdrop — faith and reason — that was the basis
for his explosive remarks in September in which he quoted a medieval Christian
emperor who described Muhammad's teachings as "evil and inhuman."
The pope avoided any direct mention of Islam after praying with Bartholomew
at the St. George Church in Istanbul, capital of Christian Byzantium before
falling to Muslim forces in 1453.
The echoes of the city's turbulent history were among Benedict's stops.
Haghia Sophia, once a spiritual center of Christianity, was converted to
a mosque in the 15th century. The site became a museum following the secular
reforms that formed modern Turkey in the 1920s.
The pope, wearing white robes, stopped often to gaze on Quranic passages
carved in the ancient marble — in some places where crosses and the fish-shaped
sign of early Christians were chiseled away. Above them were frescoes and
mosaics that couldn't be touched by Muslims: figures such as Jesus and the
Virgin Mary, who are regarded as revered predecessors of Muhammad.
Security for the pilgrimage has been stringent. But it grew even tighter
as the pope moved about Istanbul. Police blockades virtually sealed off parts
of the city's ancient heart. Snipers stood watch on the minarets added to
Haghia Sophia following the Muslim conquest.
About 150 nationalists demonstrated against the pope's visit to the site,
gathering at a square about a half mile away and urging the government to
open the museum to Muslim worship. Nationalists viewed the visit as a sign
of Christian claims to the site and a challenge to Turkish sovereignty.
"Haghia Sophia is Turkish and will remain Turkish," one protest sign read.
Riot police surrounded the demonstrators to prevent them from reaching the
Of Turkey's 70 million people, some 65,000 are Armenian Orthodox Christians,
20,000 are Roman Catholic and 3,500 are Protestant. Some 23,000 are Jewish.