Pope Benedict XVI says he is looking to increased cooperation between Christians, and a stepped-up dialogue with Muslims, following his four-day visit to Turkey - writes Luigi Sandri for Ecumenical News International.
Speaking in Rome on 3 December 2006, the Pope described the visit as an "unforgettable spiritual and pastoral experience, which I hope will bear good fruits for an ever more sincere cooperation among the disciples of Christ and for a fruitful dialogue with Muslim believers".
The trip had been overshadowed by a lecture the Pope gave in Germany in September, in which he quoted a medieval Christian emperor who had asserted that the Prophet Muhammad had "brought only things evil and inhuman". Since then, Benedict has made a number of apologies, but some Islamic followers say these did not go far enough.
Before leaving Istanbul on 1 December 2006, Pope Benedict XVI celebrated Mass in the city's Catholic cathedral, which was attended by Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomeos I with whom he had signed a "common declaration" the previous day. This urged Catholics and Orthodox to improve theological dialogue to reach full unity between the two Christian traditions, something hampered by a lack of consensus on papal authority.
Patriarch Bartholomeos, who is often referred to as the spiritual leader of the world's Orthodox Christians, said his meeting with Pope Benedict had been historic. In an interview with the Italian newspaper Avvenire, Bartholomeos revealed he made a proposal to Pope Benedict to advance ecumenical progress.
The patriarch said he could not elaborate on the proposal, "as we await an official response, but I can say that His Holiness was very interested and that he received it favourably".
In comments on the visit, Turkish media referred to Pope Benedict's position on Turkey's desired membership of the European Union, and to the pontiff's visit to the Blue Mosque in Istanbul.
Before entering the mosque, Benedict removed his shoes, as all pilgrims and worshippers are expected to do. The Pope stood in silent meditation when the mufti of Istanbul, who was accompanying him, stopped in the mosque for silent prayer. The Turkish media described this as a gesture of peace towards Islam.
Some Turkish commentators, however, described the joint declaration by Benedict and Bartholomeos in which they spoke of the "Christian roots" of Europe, as signifying a step backwards in support for Turkish entry into the EU.
Still, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan had noted after meeting Benedict that the Pope had supported the idea of Turkey in the EU, something to which as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, before he became Pope, he had expressed strong opposition.
[With grateful 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]