The Turkish government has insisted that Tuesday’s visit by the Pope to Turkey will help to heal the wounds between Catholic and Islamic worlds. Religious affairs minister Ali Bardakoglu told newspapers the controversial four day trip was “a step forward” to dialogue. That view’s not shared by all on the streets of Ankara though: “He’s been aggressive to muslims,” said one man. “He’s not coming here for our benefit but to cause arguments.”
But others support the visit, saying it was in keeping with the traditions of Turkish civilisation, which treats all religions equally. Some 20,000 people demonstrated in Istanbul yesterday to call for the Pope’s visit to be cancelled. The marchers remain angry over Benedict’s citation two months ago of a theologian who claimed Islam was by nature more violent than Christianity.
The Pope has since adopted a more conciliatory tone, but has always stopped short of apologising and security will be tight for what is being described as the highest risk voyage by a Pope in modern times. In his Sunday address, Benedict sent “a cordial greeting to the dear Turkish people”, rich in history and culture, expressing feelings of esteem and sincere friendship.