As it happened: Pope Francis in first day of historic visit to Turkey

As it happened: Pope Francis in first day of historic visit to Turkey

As it happened: Pope Francis in first day of historic visit to Turkey

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Pope Francis has arrived in Turkey for a three-day visit that many are billing as an opportunity to increase dialogue between the Muslim and Christian worlds at a time of increased religious tension.
In the fourth ever visit of a pope to Turkey, Pope Francis started his trip on Nov. 28 by visiting Anıtkabir, the mausoleum of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk. In line with his taboo-breaking style, the pontiff made a series of unscheduled stops at the final resting place of the founder of the Republic of Turkey.

During the joint conference with Erdoğan, Pope said he hopes Turkey can be a "great peacemaker," while warning against "fanaticism and fundamentalism." Turkish President Erdoğan, meanwhile, expressed disillusionment about the international response to the massacres in Syria and the coup in Egypt. Pope Francis had hosted Egyptian President Abdulfattah al-Sisi only four days ago in Vatican. 

Here are the updates as they happened throughout the day:

18.00 - The pope's official program for the first day of his visit to Turkey has ended.

17.50 - The pontiff stressed the common religious practices of Christians and Muslims, like respecting Abraham as an ancestor and fasting. He concluded his speech by promising to pray for the well-being of Görmez.

17.48 - After noting that Pope Benedict XVI had also visited the Diyanet during a trip to Turkey in 2006, Pope Francis said "dialogue acquires more importance during times of crises," while emphasizing the "tragedy" in Iraq and Syria.

17.43 - Pope Francis begins his speech by thanking Görmez "as the respected head of this important institution." 

17.32 - In the joint conference, Diyanet head Mehmet Görmez stressed that Islam is a "religion of peace." "We have pulled the world to the brink of disasters with our own hands. We can't put the whole responsibility on evil forces," he said, stressing that everyone has a responsibility for the emergence of today's tragedies. "Those who speak on behalf of God," like fundamentalists, are part of the problem, Görmez added. Terrorism is "a rebellion against God, and as Muslims we reject this extremism and bloodshed," he stated.

As it happened: Pope Francis in first day of historic visit to Turkey

17.15 - Pope Francis arrives at Turkey's Religious Affairs Directorate (Diyanet) to meet the institution's head, Mehmet Görmez. A joint conference is expected to follow the meeting.

16.24 - Concluding his speech, Pope Francis said Turkey has a responsibility in solving the problems of the region. "God bless Turkey and make it a great peacemaker," he said. The two leaders left the conference room together after shaking hands.

16.23 - "The problems [in the Middle East] cannot be solved by military means only," Pope Francis said, in an apparent reference to the international fight against ISIL. "Fanaticism and fundamentalism, as well as irrational fears which foster misunderstanding and discrimination, need to be countered by the solidarity of all believers," he added.

16.20 - The pope said fratricide in the Middle East should be halted, and fanaticism and fundamentalism should be opposed by all. "Terror attacks are seen particularly In Iraq and Syria, with many attacks against minorities," he added. He thanked Turkey for hosting refugees from the war "generously."

16.18 - Pope Francis stressed the importance of the freedom of the press, adding that the world, particularly the Middle East, is waiting for the "blossoming" of democracy.

16.16 - "We need dialogue. Muslims, Jews and Christians should have same rights and duties under the law," the pontiff said.

16.14 - Pope Francis began his speech by noting that Anatolia is a pilgrimage site for Christians around the world.

16.11 - "We sense and feel the approaching danger, calling on humanity to take precautions," Erdoğan said. 

16.09 - Stressing the Turkish government's "historic reforms that have improved the minority rights," President Erdoğan said Turkey is ready to help "produce solutions against racism, Islamophobia and intolerance," while also referencing the Alliance of Civilizations, a joint initiative by Ankara and Spain.

16.07 - "Military coups, massacres, rights violations and bloodshed in some countries are not reacted to appropriately by the world. In fact, they are almost encouraged," Erdoğan said, describing international actions as "double-standards," particularly mentioning "PKK terrorism" and the policies of the Syrian regime. 

16.03 - After slamming "xenophobia and racism in the West," Erdoğan said "terror organizations like ISIL, Boko Haram and al-Qaeda are able to exploit people" due to policy failures.

16.01 - President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Pope Francis held a joint conference at the presidential palace in Ankara following their meeting. The two leaders are not expected to answer questions. 

14.43 - The greeting ceremony ends. Pope Francis becomes the first foreign head of state to be hosted at Turkey's new presidential palace. The two leaders entered the main building for their meeting. The pontiff is expected to make an unpredecented appearance for a joint conference, which will be broadcast live, after the meeting.

14.37 - Erdoğan welcomes Pope Francis at the gates of the presidential palace.

As it happened: Pope Francis in first day of historic visit to Turkey

14.36 - Pope's car arrives in the palace, escorted by the ceremonial cavalry patrol.

14.28 - President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan leaves the presidential palace to meet Pope Francis at the gates of the gargantuan complex at Beştepe neighborhood of Ankara. Turkish architects had called on the pontiff not to attend the ceremony at the “unlicensed” Ak Saray. (Click here to read more about this story)

14.21 - Pope Francis leaves Anıtkabir. The pontiff heads to Turkey’s controversial new “Ak Saray” presidential palace, where he is expected to make his opening speech to denounce the violence being committed in God’s name by extremists and to express solidarity with the Christians and other religious minorities who have been targeted by jihadists in Syria and Iraq.

14.08 - Pope Francis leaves the museum and goes to the Anıtkabir military command center for a short rest.

As it happened: Pope Francis in first day of historic visit to Turkey

14.02 - In another unscheduled move, Pope Francis visits the Atatürk museum inside Anıtkabir.

14.01 - The pope writes in the notebook in Anıtkabir. Turkey is not only a natural bridge between two continents, the pontiff wrote, before voicing his wishes that the country should also create “a place for dialogue.” Earlier, it was reported that "dialogue" will be the focus of the trip. (Click here to read more about this story)

13.59 - Pope Francis prays in front of the symbolic grave of Atatürk.

As it happened: Pope Francis in first day of historic visit to Turkey

13.58 - The pontiff arrives in Anıtkabir. With an unscheduled choice, he used “the Road with the Lions” before paying respects to the founder of Turkey. 

13.45 - The pope’s plane lands at Ankara’s Esenboğa Airport.


On the eve of his trip, Pope Francis repeated that it was legitimate to use force to stop the advance of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), but only with the endorsement of the international community. Asked whether dialogue was possible with a group that is targeting religious minorities, the pope said, “Maybe you can’t have dialogue, but you must never close the door.”

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. 

He will also visit the Blue Mosque and celebrate Mass at the Catholic Cathedral of the Holy Spirit. 

Pope Francis will later offer a prayer at the Orthodox Patriarchal Church of St. George, followed by a private meeting with Greek Orthodox Patriarch Bartholomew I. He will celebrate a private Mass on Nov. 30, followed by a divine liturgy and the signing of a joint declaration with Patriarch Bartholomew.