Pope visits Turkish mosque, attends Greek Orthodox service


December 01, 2006|By CHICAGO TRIBUNE

ISTANBUL, Turkey -- In a day filled with ecumenical symbolism, Pope Benedict XVI attended a prayer service celebrated by his Greek Orthodox counterpart and took off his shoes to enter one of Islam's most celebrated mosques.

The pontiff did not mention Turkey by name but repeated his call for governments to guarantee religious freedom for minorities.

Because the pope gave a speech about two months ago in which he appeared to equate Islam with violence, media coverage of his visit to Turkey has focused heavily on his efforts win back credibility in the Muslim world. But the main reason for his visit has always has been to re-energize the dialogue between the Vatican and Eastern Orthodox churches.

Yesterday afternoon, the pope visited the Hagia Sophia. Once the most important basilica in Christendom, it was turned into a mosque after the Muslim conquest of Constantinople in 1453 and into a museum in the 1930s.

In another highly symbolic gesture, the pope toured the nearby Sultan Ahmet Mosque, considered by many to be one of the most magnificent examples of Islamic architecture.

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