ISTANBUL — Sending a message of unity between the followers of the two faiths, Pope Frances has visited Istanbul’s Blue Mosque and prayed alongside the Grand Mufti of Istanbul during his three-day visit to Turkey.
“I hope the visit will be fruitful and will contribute to world peace,” Rahmi Yaran, the Mufti of Istanbul, told the Pope, Anadolu Agency reported on Saturday, November 29.
“We need prayer, so much prayer.”
In a gesture described by the Vatican as a “moment of silent adoration” of God, the Pope bowed his head in prayer several minutes next to Istanbul’s Grand Mufti Yaran at the 17th-century Sultan Ahmet mosque.
“May God accept it,” the Grand Mufti told the Pope at the end of the prayer.
The 77-year-old Pontiff’s visit is the fourth by a Pope to Turkey.
In November 2006, Pope Benedict XVI visited Turkey and prayed at Istanbul’s Blue Mosque as well.
The Blue Mosque, known officially as the Sultan Ahmet mosque, opened in 1616 and is deemed the most famous in Turkey.
It got its popular name from the fine blue Iznik tiles in the main prayer room.
The mosque stands in Sultan Ahmet Square in the old centre of Istanbul, opposite the Aya Sofya Mosque, which was once the Christian church Hagia Sophia.
The Pope visited the mosque after a short tour of Aya Sofya.
He also visited the Anitkabir mausoleum, the gravesite of Turkey’s founding father, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.
During his first day in Turkey, the Pope met President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu and the head of Turkey’s religious affairs directorate, Mehmet Gormez.
Concluding his visit to the predominately Muslim country, the Pope met with the Patriarch Bartholomew I, the spiritual leader of the world’s 250 million Orthodox Christians.
In a meeting that aimed at healing schism since the split of the Catholic and Orthodox churches in 1054, a joint deceleration on reunification efforts is expected to be issued by the two religious leaders.
The Pope’s visited was welcomed by Turkish Christian leaders who expressed happiness and optimism.
“I am just happy because it’s strengthening the position of the small churches and giving them new hope,” Father Franz Kangler, a Catholic priest in Istanbul told Voice of America.
The visit was also praised by the country’s Christians and foreigners who hope that visit would foster better interfaith ties.
“It is very good that he came,” Garbis Atmaca, 72, an Armenian jeweller from Istanbul, told the Guardian.
“His visit will have a good impact on the Islamic world. It will help foster understanding and peace.”
A similar hope was shared by Anthony Joyce, 60, a tourist from England who arrived in Turkey on Friday, November 28.
“It is wonderful that the Pope has come here to show the world unity among various religions,” Joyce said.
“It is very good for the future.”
Sharing Christians their celebrations, Muslims also have lined to welcome the Pontiff.
“Most of the people coming here are Christians but there are also many Muslims,” Polish national Aniela Novak, 20, said while queuing for the Papal Mass at Istanbul’s second-largest Catholic church.
“It is really interesting and I see peace here.”