Pope Benedict XVI has visited one of Turkey’s most famous mosques in what is being seen as a major gesture of goodwill to Muslims. His tour of the Blue Mosque in Istanbul is only the second papal visit in history to a Muslim place of worship – and is one of the most highly symbolic moments of Benedict’s papacy. It is part of Vatican efforts to mend the damage his comments on Islam caused across the Muslim world two months ago.
Dialogue and removing differences have been the watchwords of the Pope’s visit and significantly, he spent more time in the mosque than he did in Hagia Sophia – a domed complex that was once a Christian centre before becoming a mosque and now a museum.
Protestors had warned that any hint of a prayer here would be deeply offensive, but the Pope restrained himself from any gesture such as praying or crossing himself. The pontiff’s visit has not just been about creating a better relationship between the Catholic Church and Islam.
Deep divisions with the Orthodox Christian church were also addressed. The day began with a liturgical celebration by the spiritual leader of the world’s Orthodox Christians, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew the first. No breakthroughs are expected on the issues that split their churches 1,000 years ago. But after their meeting, the Pope described divisions among Christians as “a scandal to the world.”