Pope Benedict Makes Historic Visit to Blue Mosque in Turkey

Pope Benedict XVI has become only the second Roman Catholic pontiff to enter a mosque, 30 November 2006. The leader of 1.1 billion Roman Catholic Christians worldwide has visited one of the most famous mosques in the predominantly Muslim country, in efforts to further heal the rift between the Vatican and Islam.

|PIC1|The tour of the 'Blue Mosque' in Istanbul came as a welcome move in Turkey, where the pope continues to make amends for remarks he made in a September speech in Germany, where he quoted a Byzantine emperor who said Islam was violent and irrational. Although the Pope has stated he in no way agreed with or endorsed the remarks in the quote, the speech still angered Muslims worldwide, and initially threw his planned visit to Turkey into doubt.

The pontiff's plans to visit the Hagia Sophia Museum, a site understood to symbolise Christian and Muslim history, brought dozens of protesters onto the streets.

Representatives of an Islamist-nationalist party demonstrated against the Pope's plans to visit the centre, which was once a Christian building before becoming a mosque and finally a museum.

Thursday, which is the third day of the Pope's trip to Turkey, commenced with a mass celebrated by the spiritual leader of the world's Orthodox Christians, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I.

A core reason for Pope Benedict's visit to Turkey had been to heal the historical division between the two Churches.

Speaking after the meeting, Pope Benedict said, "The divisions which exist among Christians are a scandal to the world."

It is understood that today's visit to the Blue Mosque was only decided at the last-minute to be part of the schedule, and is a great symbol of respect to the country's Muslim community.

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