ISTANBUL - Pope Francis begins a visit to Turkey on Friday with the delicate mission of strengthening ties with Muslim leaders while condemning violence against Christians and other minorities in the Middle East.
His three-day trip comes as Islamic State insurgents have captured swathes of Iraq and Syria just over Turkey's southern borders, declaring an Islamic caliphate and killing or driving out Shi'ite Muslims, Christians and others who do not share their ultra-radical brand of Sunni Islam.
Officials said religious tolerance and fighting extremism would be high on the agenda in Ankara on Friday when Francis meets President Tayyip Erdogan and Mehmet Gormez, the top cleric in the majority-Muslim but constitutionally secular nation.
They will issue joint calls on human rights and religious freedom as well as on the fear that Christianity is disappearing from its birthplaces in the Middle East, according to Rev. Dositheos Anagnostopoulos, spokesman for the patriarchate.