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Pope prays barefoot in Blue Mosque

07 December 2006

by Bill Bowder

Togetherness: Pope Benedict XVI and Patriarch Bartholomew I bless the faithful

Togetherness: Pope Benedict XVI and Patriarch Bartholomew I bless the faithful

THE POPE has used his four-day visit to Turkey to call for a reuniting of the Roman Catholic and Orthodox Churches. He told believers who met in the Orthodox Cathedral of St George’s, in Istanbul, that he wanted to overcome their difference of opinion over his primacy.

“The issue of the universal service of Peter and his successors has unfortunately given rise to our differences of opinion, which we hope to overcome, thanks to the theological dialogue which has been recently resumed,” he said.

He reiterated the plea of his predecessor, Pope John Paul II, for non-Roman Catholics to “identify” ways in which the Petrine ministry could be exercised, while at the same time respecting its nature and essence, “so as to accomplish a service of love recognised by all concerned”.

Last Friday, on the final day of his visit, he returned to the theme of unity. During the eucharist at the Cathedral of the Holy Spirit, he said that the previous Pope had hoped that the dawn of the new millennium would “rise upon a Church that has found again her full unity”.

“This hope has not yet been realised, but the Pope still longs to see it fulfilled, and it impels us, as disciples of Christ advancing with our hesitations and limitations along the path to unity, to act ceaselessly ‘for the good of all’, putting ecumenism at the forefront of our ecclesial concerns.”

In a joint statement with Patriarch Bartholomew I, both leaders assured “other Christians” of their openness to dialogue. They also called for “authentic and honest interreligious dialogue”, especially in the Middle East.

In the spirit of their declaration, on the Pope’s final day in Turkey, he stood barefoot and with head bowed in Istanbul’s Blue Mosque, while the Grand Mufti, who accompanied him, prayed. The gesture, together with his affirmation of Turkey’s place in Europe, did much to re-establish his reputation with Muslims, who were offended when he appeared to criticise their faith in a speech given in September.

His visit, however, received a mixed reception from some Anglicans in Turkey, who are already suffering from the effects of violence and murder against their community.

Speaking in a personal capacity, the Anglican chaplain to Istanbul, Canon Ian Sherwood, said on Wednesday that many Turks found the visit “tiresome”.

It was “worrying for some; and deeply negative for a few tens of thousands. I returned to Turkey in time for the evident feeling of all-round relief that the man had left the country.

“Yet, overall, the Pope of Rome’s visit to the Ecumenical Patriarch demonstrated an act of friendship that is happily now natural to most of our Churches, and such friendship is our task,” Canon Sherwood said.

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