pope mosque 298.88.
(photo credit: AP)
Pope Benedict XVI on his first visit to an Islamic country has now become the second pope to visit a mosque, touching the Turkish public when he so surprisingly prayed in the Blue Mosque while diplomatically not doing so in Hagia Sophia - once an Orthodox Cathedral, now a museum. He visited the holy places of Christendom, including Ephesus, where the Virgin Mary spent her last years and is believed to be buried, and where St. Paul preached the Gospels.
In spite of everything said beforehand, the fact is that the pope's visit to Turkey from November 28 to December 1 was a diplomatic achievement of great importance and significance for both the Vatican and Turkey. The latter has high respect for the Vatican, and has maintained an ambassador there for decades.
The visit started auspiciously with a friendly 20-minute welcome from Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and then the head of the Directorate of Religious Affairs Ali Bardakoglu had a very heartwarming meeting with His Holiness, with the unfortunate Regensburg speech seeming to be put behind them, which was very positive.
All's well that ends well. The visit contradicted its controversial prelude and proved a God-given opportunity for friendly understanding, rather than an occasion for either side to make further polemical remarks.
Welcoming Pope Benedict to Turkey, the home of the Virgin Mary, St. John and St. Paul, a Muslim but secular country where the seven churches of early Christianity were established, Turkish President Ahmet Necdet Sezer also invited him, I hope, to return and visit the sites of the other six churches in the Book of Revelations besides Ephesus: Smyrna, Laodicea, Pergamum, Philadelphia, Sardis and Thyatira, and to feel for himself the truth of Pope John XXIII's words, which Pope Benedict XVI quoted, "I love the Turks."
Now that the pope's visit is over, after all the pessimism and trepidation beforehand, we are left with his all-embracing remarks and gestures, which turned this visit into a historic success and transformed His Holiness into a cherished and honored guest in the eyes of Turkey.
Hopefully the same is true for the rest of the Islamic world. We pray that his mission for inter-religious understanding, rapprochement and harmony may one day become a reality, and he is now expected to give not only his blessing but also active support to the Alliance of Civilizations of Spanish Prime Ministers Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero and Erdogan, under the protective wings of the Vatican.
I appreciated and enjoyed this open-hearted papal visit, as a God-sent mission at a most critical and timely moment in the East-West divide.
Turkish Daily News