Pope Benedict to Continue Conciliatory Visit to Turkey

Pope Benedict XVI, spiritual head of the world's 1.1 billion-member Roman Catholic Church, commenced his visit of Turkey on Tuesday, immediately taking steps to ease tensions between Islam and the Vatican.

|PIC1|On Wednesday, the Pope will continue his tour of the predominantly Muslim country, paying tribute to one of Christianity's most sacred sites before heading to Istanbul.

Reports have stated that the Pope's comments so far on his visit have greatly helped 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.

Prior to the Pope's arrival, it was greatly feared that large protests would be seen all over the country. However, the fears seem to have been unfounded, with only two, small and peaceful demonstrations taking place so far in Ankara.

Fears have been so heightened that Turkey has deployed snipers to buildings near papal events, trying to ensure that nothing unsavoury should happen which would be catastrophic to the image of the country as it continues its efforts to enter the European Union.

One of Turkey's top Muslim leaders, Ali Bardakoglu, spoke out against growing "Islamophobia, which expresses the mentality that the religion of Islam is containing and encouraging violence".

At the same event, Pope Benedict said that Christians and Muslims must continue an open dialogue because they believed in the same God and agreed on the meaning and purpose of life.

On Wednesday the Pope will fly west to Ephesus, where many believe that the mother of Jesus Christ lived out the last years of her life.

The Pope will lead mass at the small sanctuary, visited every year by tens of thousands of followers of both the Christian and Muslim faith.

Following the Ephesus visit, the Pope will travel to Istanbul, formerly known as Constantinople, which was the capital of the Byzantine Empire for more than 1,000 years until it was conquered by Muslim forces in 1453.

Pope Benedict will spend the final two days of his Turkey trip there as the guest of Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, who is the spiritual head of the world's 250 million Orthodox Christians - the core purpose of the Pope's visit.

Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan reported on Tuesday that in a private meeting at the airport upon the Pope's arrival, the Pope had told him he backed Turkey's bid to join the European Union.

Erdogan added: "The most important message the Pope gave was towards Islam, he reiterated his view of Islam as peaceful and affectionate."