Mon, Dec 01, 2014 - Page 6 News List

Francis looks for unity in Istanbul


Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I of Constantinople, right, blesses Pope Francis at the Patriarchal Church of St George in Istanbul, Turkey, on Saturday.

Photo: Reuters

Pope Francis yesterday attended a divine liturgy led by Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I, wrapping up his first visit to Turkey where he has sought to reach out both to Muslims and other Christian confessions.

Francis attendance at the divine liturgy at the Patriarchal Church of St George on the banks of the Golden Horn in Istanbul was the latest sign of the warming ties between the Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches under his papacy.

The visit of the pope to Istanbul has been heavily loaded with symbolism. Pope Francis stood on Saturday for two minutes of silent prayer while facing east in one of Turkey’s most important mosques, a powerful vision of Christian-Muslim understanding when neighboring countries experience violent Islamic assault on Christians and religious minorities.

His head bowed, eyes closed and hands clasped in front of him, Francis prayed alongside the Grand Mufti of Istanbul, Rahmi Yaran, in the 17th-century Sultan Ahmet Mosque — known as the Blue Mosque — shifting gears to religious concerns on the second day of his three-day visit to Turkey.

“May God accept it,” Yaran told the pope of their prayer.

Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi called it a moment of “silent adoration.”

Lombardi said Francis told the mufti twice that Christians and Muslims must “adore” God and not just praise and glorify him.

It was a remarkably different atmosphere from Francis’ first day in Turkey, when the simple and frugal pope was visibly uncomfortable with the pomp and protocol required of him for the state visit part of his trip.

With Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s mega-palace, honor guard and horseback escort now behind him, Francis got down to the business of being pope on Saturday, showing respect to Muslim leaders, celebrating Mass for Istanbul’s tiny Catholic community and meeting with the spiritual leader of the world’s 300 million Catholics.

Francis’ visit comes at an exceedingly tense time for Turkey, with Islamic State militants grabbing territory in Syria and Iraq, sending about 1.6 million refugees fleeing across the borders. Some refugees were expected to attend Francis’ final event yesterday before he was to return to Rome.

Francis nodded, smiled and looked up in awe as Yaran gave him a tour of the Blue Mosque, famed for its elaborate blue tiles and cascading domes.

Presenting the pope with a blue, tulip-designed tile, Yaran said he prayed that his visit would “contribute to the world getting along well and living in peace.”

“We are in need of prayers. The world really needs prayers,” Yaran said.

Francis was following in the footsteps of Pope Benedict XVI, who visited Turkey in 2006 amid heightened Christian-Muslim tensions over a now-infamous papal speech linking violence with the Prophet Mohammed. The Vatican added the stop at the Blue Mosque at the last minute to show Benedict’s respect for Muslims.

The Vatican also acted to avoid offense to its Muslim hosts this time around by moving forward Francis’ visit to the mosque so it would not coincide with noon prayers.

After he left, Francis walked a short distance to tour the nearby Hagia Sophia, which was the main Byzantine church in Constantinople — now Istanbul — before being turned into a mosque after the Muslim conquest of the city in 1453. The structure is now a museum, although some Islamic groups want it to be converted back into a mosque.

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