Peaceful Pope promotes brotherhood, backs Turkey for EU

Arriving in Turkey, Pope Benedict said that his trip aims to promote brotherhood and reconciliation between cultures and religions, telling the Turkish Prime Minister that the Holy See supports his country's entry to the European Union.

The Sydney Morning Herald characterised the Turkish Prime Minister's meeting with the Pope as "a major diplomatic gesture on the part of Mr Erdogan, who had been accused of snubbing the Pope for refusing until the last minute to meet him during his delicate four-day visit".

The two heads of state shook hands and processed from the plane on a red carpet, Catholic News Agency reports.

"I want to express happiness to see you and your delegation in our country," Erdogan told the Pope. He described the Pope's visit as "very meaningful."

"I really wanted to come to Turkey because Turkey has become a bridge ... between the religions," Benedict reportedly told the Prime Minister through an interpreter.

"It is a democratic, Islamic country and a bridge," the Pope said. "I wanted to come to Turkey since becoming pope because I love this culture."

"I want to reiterate the solidarity between the cultures," Benedict said. "This is our duty."

Although while still a Cardinal, Pope Benedict had argued that Turkey's Muslim majority religion meant that the nation did not belong in the European Union, Mr Erdogan said the Pope told him that he supported Turkey's push to join the European Union.

"He said we are not political, but we wish for Turkey to join the EU," Mr Erdogan said.

Mr Erdogan, a devout Muslim, said the visit would help contribute to world peace.

"We as a nation will show hospitality to the Pope as befits Turkey. We hope that this important visit will contribute to the search for global peace," Mr Erdogan said.

Benedict said his trip was aimed at improving relations with Muslims and Orthodox Christians. "Dialogue in many dimensions: between cultures, between Christianity and Islam, dialogue with our Christian brothers and, above all, the Orthodox Church of Constantinople and certainly a better understanding between us all."

Turkish media commentators struck a positive note, describing the visit as a meeting of the Western and Muslim worlds rather than as a clash of civilisations, as some groups have portrayed it. Security was tight with protests expected from a vociferous minority of Islamists and nationalists.

The newspaper Milliyet said President Ahmet Necdet Sezer, who invited the Pope to Turkey, would present him with a copy of the order for tolerance issued by the Ottoman Sultan who seized Istanbul from the Christian Byzantine Greeks in 1453.

After a brief, private meeting between the two, the Pontiff was ushered to a bulletproof car, for travel to the mausoleum of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the "Father of Turkey" who was the founder and first president of the modern Turkish Republic.

Later, Pope Benedict was received by Ahmet Necdet Sezer, president of the Republic of Turkey, in the presidential palace.

Turkey has 72 million inhabitants, of whom 99.8 percent are Muslims. The remaining 0.20 percent is made up of Christians of various rites (Greek-Orthodox, Syro-Orthodox, Armenian-Orthodox, Protestants and Catholics) and Jews.

Catholics number some 32,000, about 0.04 percent of the total population. The Catholic Episcopal Conference of Turkey is made up of six bishops. Currently, there are 47 parishes, 68 priests, 98 male and female religious, four permanent deacons, five major seminarians and 28 catechists.

I come in peace: Pope's plea for dialogue, fraternity (Sydney Morning Herald, 28/11/06)
Pope Benedict XVI arrives in Turkey, "a bridge between Asia and Europe" (Catholic News Agency, 28/11/06)
Benedict XVI: My trip is not political but pastoral (Kath.net, 28/11/05)
The first official speech in Ankara (Kath.net, 28/11/06)

LINKS (not necessarily endorsed by Church Resources)
Benedict to brave protests over Turkey visit (CathNews, 28/11/06)
Istanbul man fires shots in suspected protest over Benedict visit (CathNews, 3/11/06)
Pope Turkey trip looking likely for November (CathNews, 8/9/05)

29 Nov 2006