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Friday, December 01, 2006

A Papal Benediction

The Pope in IstanbulThe Pope's visit to Turkey - even with critics on both sides in a war of protests - carries a consensus that his four day trip was a success.

Marking only the second papal visit in history to a Muslim place of worship, the Pope visited one of Turkey's most famous mosques yesterday in what is being seen as an attempt to mend relations with the Muslim community after his Bavaria speech, which was criticised as "insulting Islam".

A last minute addition to his Istanbul schedule, during his tour of the Blue Mosque the pontiff paused in silent prayer alongside senior Muslim clerics.

Earlier, the Pope visited the nearby Hagia Sophia Museum - across the square from the Blue Mosque - but refrained from praying at the converted cathedral to avoid offence. Demonstrators had protested the visit as an attempt to stake a Catholic claim to the site.

Healing Rifts

The original reason for the pontiff's decision to travel to Turkey was to meet Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I - a Turkish citizen - in Istanbul. The Pope's talks with the spiritual leader of the world's Orthodox Christians was aimed to heal an old rift.

Meeting in Istanbul, the heads of the two ancient branches of Christianity - the Eastern and the Western rites - came together to begin dialogue on a split nearly 1,000 years ago over disputes including papal authority. Catholics have criticised this move as aiding to continue the corruption of the message of the New Testament with ancient Greek thought.

Europe coming in line with Turkey?

Before arriving in Turkey's largest city, the Pope had also held Mass near a shrine to the Virgin Mary in the ancient western city of Ephesus. It was expected the Pope to make a speech about religious freedoms for the dwindling number of Christians in Turkey. Yet, the Pope and the European press - especially in light of one of Europe's most tolerant countries banning Islamic dress in a move that even exceeds the line drawn by Turkish standards for secularism - seems to have almost side-stepped this area.

Since arriving in Turkey on Tuesday, Pope Benedict XVI has offered wide-ranging messages of reconciliation to Muslims, including appeals for support for Turkey's bid to join the European Union - which would make it the first member with a majority Muslim population.

However, the Pope has no authority over politics or the Orthodoxy, noted by the hard push by Greek Cypriots to solve the Cyprus issue through the EU rather than under the auspices of the United Nations, threatening to hijack Turkey's train to Europe, unless its demands are met.

In line with the divisive Greek lobby, the European Commission has recommended that some elements of talks with Turkey about its hopes of joining the EU should be frozen unless it opens its ports to Cyprus. Turkey sees this condition as "unacceptable" until the EU eases its embargo on Turkish-controlled northern Cyprus, a promise it gave to the Turkish Cypriots after they voted "Yes" in a 2004 referendum for reunification.

Greek Cypriots had voted a resounding "No".

Picture courtesy of BBC News online.

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