Pope Francis to make three-day visit to Turkey

Pope Francis to make three-day visit to Turkey

VATICAN - Anadolu Agency
Pope Francis to make three-day visit to Turkey

Francis arrives to attend an afternoon session of a two-week synod on family issues at the Vatican, on Oct. 18, 2014. AP Photo

Pope Francis is set to become the fourth Pope to visit Turkey, after the Vatican published details of an upcoming three-day visit to Ankara and Istanbul.

Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi said on Oct. 21 that Pope Francis was scheduled to touch down on Turkish soil on Nov. 28 in Ankara, before leaving the country from Istanbul on Nov. 30.

“Accepting the invitation of the president of the [Turkish] Republic, of His Holiness Bartholomew and the president of the [Turkish] Bishops’ Conference, Pope Francis will make an apostolic visit to Turkey from Nov. 28 to 30, traveling to Ankara and to Istanbul,” read the statement issued by Lombardi.

On the first day of his visit in the capital, the Pope is expected to visit the Anıtkabir, the mausoleum of the founder of the Turkish Republic Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, before meeting President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, and Directorate of Religious Affairs (Diyanet) head Mehmet Görmez.

Pope Francis will then fly on Nov. 29 to Istanbul, where he is scheduled to visit the Hagia Sofia Museum and the Sultan Ahmet Mosque (Blue Mosque).

The Pontiff will hold a Holy Mass at the Catholic Cathedral of the Holy Spirit and privately meet Orthodox Patriarch Bartholomew I later in the day.

He will also sign a Common Declaration towards religious unity and have lunch with Bartholomew I on the last day of his visit, during which he is scheduled to make three speeches.

Pope Francis will be the fourth Pope to visit Turkey after Pope Paul VI in 1967, Pope John Paul II in 1979 and Pope Benedict XVI in 2006.

The visit will come three days after he addresses the European Union Parliament in Strasbourg, France, at a difficult time for people of various religions in the Middle East and at a time when Turkey is hosting more than 1.5 million Syrian refugees.

Syria’s civil war has left more than 191,000 people dead since it began over three years ago, according to a U.N. report released in August.

Iraqi Christians have also fled their homes in fear of their lives in the face of attacks by Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIL) militants, with most of them arriving in Turkey.

Asked whether the Pope may visit refugees from Syria or Iraq during his visit to Turkey, Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin told reporters that it had not been ruled out as “the program has not yet been defined.”

A U.S.-led coalition is continuing to strike ISIL targets in Iraq and Syria in an effort to help Iraqi government forces and Kurdish security forces fighting the terrorist group.

Turkey declared on Monday that it will help Kurdish security forces (known as Peshmerga) to cross the border and pass from Iraq to Syria, where Kurds are fighting ISIL militants in the border city of Kobane.