Pope Francis is heading to Turkey to promote inter-religious tolerance and plead for peace in the region.
In Syria and Iraq, neighbouring Turkey, ancient Christian communities – along with other non-Christian minorities – are under attack from the extremist movement that calls itself Islamic State.
The three-day trip starts this Friday.
On the eve of his departure, in Rome, the head of the Catholic Church said:
“I invite everybody to pray that this trip of Peter to his brother Andrew will bring the fruits of peace.”
Christian tradition has it that the successor to Saint Andrew, Apostle of Jesus, is Patriarch Bartholomew I, current Archbishop of Constantinople.
Bartholomew is the spiritual head of the world’s more than 300 million Eastern Orthodox Christians. There are roughly four times that many Catholics. He and Francis have met several times.
Christians in Turkey make up a very small minority of the population, less than one percent.
The predecessor of Francis, Benedict XVI, travelled to Istanbul in 2006 riding the inter-faith turbulence brought by a speech he had given which appeared to associate Islam with fanaticism, exploring the concept of violence.
Francis will also visit the Blue Mosque, originally a Byzantine church and the world’s biggest, now a museum. Benedict paid his respects there to all that is good in Islam — but didn’t pray, according to the Catholic spokesman.
Turkey is officially secular, but harassment and physical attacks on Christians have worsened in recent years.
With the deadly new Muslim-Christian tensions next door, in August the Pope said the use of force against the warring Islamic State extremists could be justified.
Francis will also be meeting Recep Tayyip Erdogan at a colossal new presidential palace in Ankara.