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Benedict XVI's 3 Objectives in Turkey

Pastoral, Ecumenical and Interreligious

VATICAN CITY, NOV. 28, 2006 (Zenit) - Benedict XVI's apostolic journey to Turkey has three objectives: one pastoral, another ecumenical, and a third that includes the fostering of dialogue with Islam.

As with all his apostolic visits, the Pope is going to Turkey in order to confirm the Catholic community in the faith. That small community includes various rites: Latin, Armenian Catholic, Syrian Catholic and Chaldean.

According to the Holy See's Statistical Yearbook, in this country of approximately 72 million inhabitants, 99% are Muslims. Catholics number about 32,000, or 0.04% of the population.

They have 47 parishes, and are assisted by six bishops, 13 diocesan priests, 55 religious-order priests, four permanent deacons, 12 men religious (not priests), 86 nuns, eight lay missionaries and 28 catechists. In Turkey, the Catholic Church does not have juridical recognition.

The Holy Father will preside at two Eucharistic celebrations with the country's Catholic faithful.

The first will take place on Wednesday at the national Marian shrine of Meyem Ana Evi, that is, the house of Jesus' Mother Mary, in Ephesus, the city in which the council of 431 proclaimed her divine maternity.

The second Mass will be celebrated in Istanbul on Friday, the last day of the visit, at the Cathedral Church of the Holy Spirit.

Full unity

The Pope is going to Istanbul in response to an invitation of the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, Bartholomew I, presented at the start of his pontificate.

With this visit, Benedict XVI confirms that one of his priorities is the search for full Christian unity, as he stated on April 20, 2005, in his homily delivered in the Sistine Chapel, the day after his election.

On Wednesday, the Pontiff will take part in a meeting of prayer and dialogue with the Orthodox patriarch.

The highlight of the visit to the ecumenical patriarch will be Thursday, the liturgical memorial of the Apostle Andrew, brother of St. Peter.

Benedict XVI's participation in the Divine Liturgy will be followed by a joint brief prayer and the presentation of a stone tablet in memory of the last three Pontiffs who visited the patriarchate (John XXIII, as apostolic delegate, and Paul VI and John Paul II as popes).

The event will end with the reading and signing of a joint statement between Benedict XVI and Bartholomew I.

On the same day, Benedict XVI will visit Patriarch Mesrob II Mutafyan, at the headquarters of the Armenian Apostolic Patriarchate. The latter is not in full communion with Rome, though in recent decades there have been important steps toward rapprochement.

The Holy Father also will receive the Syrian Orthodox archbishop and some leaders of the Protestant communities.

Mosque visit

Finally, this papal trip to a secular, predominantly Muslim country seeks to foster interreligious dialogue. Notable, in this connection, will be the Pope's visit on Tuesday to the Mausoleum of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk (1881-1938), founder and first president of the modern republic of Turkey.

Then, after meeting with government leaders, Benedict XVI will deliver an anticipated address to the country's president of religious affairs, perhaps on questions linked to dialogue and coexistence between Muslims and Christians.

To show his esteem for the followers of Islam, the Holy Father requested a visit Thursday afternoon, to the Blue Mosque, the largest in Istanbul.

The importance of interreligious dialogue will be underlined later the same day by the Pope during a visit to the Grand Rabbi of Turkey.

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