Pope likely to visit Turkey this autumn

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Pope Francis is expected to pay an official visit to Turkey later this autumn, eight years after his predecessor, Benedict XVI, paid a landmark official visit from the Holy See to the country.

Bartholomew I, spiritual leader of 250 million Orthodox Christians from Istanbul, extended an invitation to the pope in March 2013 when the two religious leaders met in an historic audience involving the leaders of the Eastern Orthodox Church, other religious heads and the Roman Catholic Church’s leader for the first such meeting since a schism in 1054.

At the time, the Greek Orthodox patriarch became the first head of the Eastern Orthodox Church to attend a papal enthronement since his church split with the Catholic Church more than 1,000 years ago.

Afterwards, the invitation was sent through diplomatic channels in line with customs, sources told the Hürriyet Daily News Sept. 8.

However, because the president has been replaced since then, the Vatican is apparently waiting for a renewal of the invitation by the Turkish side, namely by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who was elected to his current post in August.

The pope is expected to arrive in late November, as he primarily received the invitation from the patriarch to attend a commemoration for St. Andrew, the “first-called of the Apostles,” which is marked on Nov. 30.

The 77-year-old pope’s predecessor at the Holy See – Benedict XVI – visited the Patriarchate in 2006, a year after he was elected pope. He attended the Orthodox Liturgy, which was celebrated at the Patriarchal Church in Istanbul.

As recently as Sept. 2, Turkey’s top cleric has said the pope must pay attention to steadily rising attacks against mosques in Germany, which has a considerable Turkish and Muslim population.

All religious institutions, particularly the Vatican, should focus on these rising attacks against mosques in Germany, Mehmet Görmez, the head of Turkey’s Directorate for Religious Affairs (Diyanet), said at the time.

“This doesn’t happen through things like washing a young girl’s feet or arranging inter-religious football games and tournaments,” he said in an apparent and scathing reference to symbolic moves made by the Pope Francis. In March 2013, the pope made international headlines by washing the feet of two women and two Muslims at a juvenile detention center in Rome. Before this, modern popes had only ever washed the feet of 12 priests at the Vatican, during the Mass for the Last Supper.

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