World Bulletin/News Desk
Pope Francis, the spiritual leader of the globe’s estimated one billion Catholics, has arrived in Istanbul on the second day of his official visit to Turkey.
Looking relaxed and smiling, the 77-year-old Argentinian pontiff was met on the tarmac by Fener Greek Patriarch Bartholomew, the Istanbul-based leader of many of the world’s Orthodox Christians.
Shortly after leaving the airport, the Pontiff – travelling in a modest car, at his request – arrived at Istanbul’s 17th century Sultan Ahmet (Blue) Mosque.
Amid tight security – one Turkish TV channel estimated that 7,000 extra police officers are on duty in the city today – Pope Francis was greeted at the Ottoman mosque by Islamic religious leaders.
Rahmi Yaran, Mufti of Istanbul talked to the Pope about prayer, which is one of the five pillars of Islam, the mosque’s architecture and read some verses from the Quran, especially Surah al-Imran’s verse number 37.
It talks about the Virgin Marry and the source of a mosque or ‘mihrap’ indicating the direction of Mecca.
“I hope the visit will be fruitful and will contribute to world peace,” Yaran told the pope, who thanked him for his remarks.
“We need prayer, so much prayer,” Yaran added.
The pair then stood for a moment’s silent reflection facing east – the second time a Catholic pontiff has done so in the landmark mosque.
The Holy Father then travelled in a small motorcade the short distance to the city’s Hagia Sofia museum.
A former Byzantine cathedral first built in 360AD, it was converted into a mosque after the 1453 Ottoman conquest of the city. The iconic building became a museum in 1935.
Francis took off his shoes as he entered the huge mosque, before bowing his head in prayer for several minutes, facing Mecca and standing next to Istanbul's Grand Mufti Rahmi Yaran, in what a Vatican spokesman described as a joint "moment of silent adoration" of God.
A similar act by his predecessor Pope Benedict in 2006 drew criticism from conservative Catholics and some Muslims.
Several hundred people, many of them tourists, watched from behind police barriers as the pope then walked to the nearby Aya Sofya museum, once the Christian church Hagia Sophia.
A group of school children waving Turkish and Vatican flags chanted "Long live Pope Francis" in Italian as the Muslim call to prayer rang out across the Sultanahmet square, the heart of Istanbul's historic quarter.
"We must show respect for each others beliefs. God willing the pope's visit will help in this respect," said Halil Ibrahim Cil, 24, a hospital worker from Istanbul.
"We want to practice our religion in peace. We want people to understand Islam. We don't want war."
The Pope later emerged to the sound of the Islamic call to prayer from nearby mosques, before travelling to a scheduled Mass at the Catholic Cathedral of the Holy Spirit.
Francis was later given a rapturous welcome by Istanbul's tiny Roman Catholic community when he celebrated a Mass in the city's Holy Spirit Cathedral. Several thousand people from a Catholic population of around 53,000 packed the small building and others watched from an outdoor courtyard.
He later went to a joint service with Bartholomew I, spiritual leader of some 300 million Orthodox Christians worldwide. The main purpose of his trip is to hold a joint ceremony on Sunday with Bartholomew to renew their commitment to reunite the eastern and western branches of Christianity.
Pope Francis is in Turkey as part of a three-day visit to the predominantly Muslim country. He is the fourth pontiff to visit Turkey. Pope Paul VI visited the country in 1967, followed by Pope John Paul II in 1979 and Pope Benedict XVI in 2006.
During the first day of his visit Francis visited the Anitkabir mausoleum, the gravesite of Turkey’s founding father, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.
He also met President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu and the head of Turkey’s religious affairs directorate, Mehmet Gormez.
Pope Francis stressed the importance of holding dialogue between leaders of different religions during his landmark visit to the Turkish capital.
He will depart on Sunday afternoon for Rome.
Last Mod: 29 Kasım 2014, 23:24