Orthodox leader says Pope's Turkey visit will go ahead
Patriarch Bartholomeos I, the Istanbul-based Christian Orthodox leader, says he remains confident the Pope will visit Muslim-majority Turkey as planned in November despite the furore about the pontiff's speech in Germany ñ writes Bernadette Sauvaget for Ecumenical News International.
"The Turkish people are very hospitable, but most probably national and fanatical groups will hold demonstrations against the visit," the patriarch told a group of French religious affairs journalists on 17 September 2006 who were visiting his official headquarters in Istanbul, which was once the Byzantine Christian capital of Constantinople.
"They will continue to call on the government not to welcome the Pope," said Bartholomeos, who is widely seen as the spiritual leader of the world's Orthodox Christians.
Pope Benedict XVI is scheduled to arrive in Turkey at the end of November for a visit that will take him to the capital Ankara as well as Istanbul in the west. On 30 November 2006 he is due to attend a religious service with Bartholomeos, a move seen as trying to heal a split between Western and Eastern Christianity dating back almost a thousand years.
Turkey's foreign minister, Abdullah Gul signalled at the weekend that the Pope's scheduled visit would go ahead, despite the furore in many parts of the Muslim world about the speech by the Pope quoting a Christian emperor who had referred to "evil and inhuman" aspects of Islam.
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Erdogan had earlier criticised the Pope's remarks. "We cannot accept these statements. The Islamic world cannot accept them," Erdogan stated. "I do not think that they can be accepted either by the Christian and Catholic world."
Some observers say that Turkey would have much to lose if Benedict was not to visit the country, which is seeking to join the European Union.
The Ecumenical Patriarchate is seen as a long-standing supporter of European Union entry for Turkey. "Our country is a bridge between the East and the West," stated the patriarch. "We do not think the European Union should be only a club limited to Christians."
Before becoming pope, Benedict had made known his opposition to Turkey joining the EU.
But, said Bartholomeos, "After his election to the throne of [Saint] Peter, I don't think he has repeated these remarks. The fact that the Pope is coming to Turkey is a sign and shows that he is not against it."
Pope Benedict has apologised for the uproar caused by his remarks in Germany saying the quotations did not represent his personal views, and Patriarch Bartholomeos said the apology should be allowed to stand.
"We have to accept the interpretation that he gave himself to his words," Bartholomeos told the journalists. "He knows best what he wanted to say. He did not want to offend Islam."
The patriarch said that one passage of a long text such as that delivered by the Pope in Germany should not be looked at in isolation. "You have to read the whole text to understand what was intended by the person who wrote or spoke it," he said.
Still, the Ecumenical Patriarchate has published a statement in which it appeared to distance itself from the Pope's remarks. "When humanity faces such dangers and when there are so many common values and opportunities for co-operation between religions and cultures ... it is essential not to offend each other and to avoid situations which could offend each other's beliefs," Bartholomeos had declared in that statement.
Meanwhile, Pope Benedict XVI has appealed for mutual respect between followers of different religions, in a message mourning the killing of an Italian nun in Somalia that some observers have linked to his remarks about Islam.
Benedict said he firmly deplored any form of violence, and he hoped the death of the nun would inspire "real fraternity among peoples in the mutual respect for the religious convictions of each other".
Two days earlier, gunmen had shot dead 65-year-old nun Leonella Sgorbati and her bodyguard outside a children's hospital in the Somali capital, Mogadishu.
With acknowledgements to ENI. Ecumenical News International is jointly sponsored by the World Council of Churches, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, and the Conference of European Churches.
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