Pope Benedict XVI began his visit to Turkey Tuesday with a message of dialogue and "brotherhood" between Christians and Muslims in an attempt to ease anger over his perceived criticism of Islam.
Two months after the Pope touched off fury across the Islamic world with remarks linking violence and the Prophet Mohammad, the Turkish prime minister in a last-minute change of plans was on hand at the airport in Turkey's capital to greet the pontiff.
"All feel the same responsibility in this difficult moment in history, let's work together," Benedict said during his flight from Rome to Ankara, where more than 3,000 police and sharpshooters joined a security effort that surpassed even the visit of US President George W. Bush in 2004, China Daily reports.
Turkey ’s top Muslim leader yesterday told Pope Benedict there was too much “Islamophobia” in the world, as the Pontiff appeared to do an about-face from his previous opposition to Ankara ’s bid to enter the European Union.
Beginning a delicate four-day trip under heavy security to the predominantly Muslim country, Benedict quickly set to work to soothe still-simmering rows.
Speaking to reporters on his plane, Benedict said a main purpose of his trip was to foster peace and better understanding between Christians and Muslims.
Addressing Turkish President Ahmet Necdet Sezer later, he expressed his “particular esteem” for Muslims and said he wanted to promote “dialogue as a sincere exchange between friends”.
Benedict’s comments on the first day of his trip appeared to go a long way towards making up for a speech in Germany in September where he quoted a Byzantine emperor who said Islam was violent and irrational. The speech infuriated Muslims worldwide, businessdaily.co.za says.
The Pope will leave Ankara on Wednesday for Ephesus, where the Virgin Mary is thought to have spent her last years and will then travel to Istanbul, a former Christian metropolis known as Constantinople until Ottoman Turks conquered it in 1453.
Protests against the visit have already taken place in Istanbul last Sunday while on Tuesday, dozens of Muslims demonstrated against the Pope outside the Religious Affairs Directorate in Ankara.
Perhaps one of the thorniest issues surrounding the papal visit will be the Pontiff's visit on Thursday to the Haghia Sophia museum in Istanbul, which was built in the 6th century as a Christian church but was converted to a mosque in 1453 when Islamic armies conquered the city.
Some groups have petitioned for it to be turned back into a mosque, and just days ago members of an Islamic radical group stormed the museum and prayed at the site, issuing a warning to the Pope not to visit the building, even though it is scheduled to be one of his major stops in the city, zeenews.com says.
Prepared by Alexander Timoshik
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