Pope Francis waves at the end of a meeting with the Pauline family on the occasion of the centenary of its foundation by Don Giacomo Alberione, on Nov. 27, 2014, at the Vatican's Paul VI audience hall. AFP Photo
Pope Francis begins his three-day visit to Ankara
and Istanbul today, the fourth ever visit of a Pope to Turkey, with a heavy agenda.
As turmoil continues to roil the Middle East, Pope Francis’ visit has been framed as an opportunity to promote dialogue and tolerance between Muslims and Christians, as well as a chance for the Vatican to strengthen its ties with the Orthodox
Turkish Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Tanju Bilgiç told reporters on Nov. 27 that the issue of “alliance of civilizations, dialogue between cultures, xenophobia, the fight against racism
and political developments in the region” would be on the agenda during the trip.900 media members to cover the Pope’s visit
Pope Francis, who generally prefers not to stay in hotels on foreign trips, will use the residence of the Vatican Embassy in Turkey during the visit, according to Turkish officials.
The Vatican had also reportedly asked Ankara
to assign a modest “Ford Focus” model car for the Pope’s use during his visit, but the Turkish authorities instead offered an official German
armored state car that is in general use for Turkish protocol.
Some 900 media members have been accredited to cover Pope Francis’ visit to Turkey, 69 of whom are traveling with him.
During his visit to Ankara, Pope Francis will deliver a speech to representatives of diplomatic missions and the press in Turkey’s controversial new “Ak Saray” presidential palace, followed by an address at the Religious Affairs Directorate (Diyanet). He will be hosted by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu
and Diyanet head Mehmet Görmez.
During his visit to Istanbul on Nov. 29-30, the pope will visit the Hagia Sophia Museum, originally built as an Eastern Orthodox
cathedral in the 6th century before being converted into a mosque after the Ottoman conquest in 1453. It is now open to the public as a museum.
Pope Francis will also visit the Blue Mosque and celebrate Mass at the Catholic Cathedral of the Holy Spirit.
The pope will later offer a prayer at the Orthodox
Patriarchal Church of St. George, followed by a private meeting with GreekOrthodox
Patriarch Bartholomew I. The pope will celebrate a private Mass on Nov. 30, followed by a divine liturgy and the signing of a joint declaration with Bartholomew.
Bartholomew previously visited the Vatican for the inaugural mass of Pope Francis, the first time in history that a GreekOrthodox
Patriarch had attended the installation of a pope.
“We are eagerly awaiting the visit of our brother, Pope Francis,” Bartholomew said ahead of the visit. “It will be yet another significant step in our positive relations as sister Churches.”
Pope's gunman speaks out ahead of Francis’ visit
Mehmet Ali Ağca, the Turkish gunman who attempted to assassinate the late Pope John Paul II in 1981, has held a news conference ahead of Pope Francis’ visit, in which he criticized Pope Francis for not responding to his meeting request.
Speaking to reporters in Istanbul, the gunman said he now does not want to meet with the cleric.
After reading a line from the Bible and translating it into Turkish, Ağca delivered a speech full of religious references during the press conference.
“If he serves for peace, international peace and justice, then he is welcome,” he said.