The seventy-two hours Pope Benedict XVI will spend in Turkey, from November 28 until December 1, will mean not only a dialogue between Christianity and Islam, but also a step towards bettering relations with Orthodox Christianity. The pope’s visit will focus a spotlight on the Christian minority in Turkey. The papal visit will serve to focus world attention on Turkey as it attempts to burnish its international image and integrate itself with the European Union.
The Patriarch of Constantinople (of the city Turks call Istanbul), Bartholomew I, renewed an invitation to Benedict XVI that he had issued to John Paul II during a visit to Rome in June 2004. In reality, the pope’s trip had been planned for November 30, 2005. However, because the invitation had come from the patriarch, the local Turkish authorities were ill-disposed. Besides, the climate was less than serene. Still in the air were certain statements made by then-Cardinal Ratzinger in the French newspaper “Le Figaro” in which he pointed out the effective lack of religious freedom in Turkey, among other things. The government of Turkey preferred to emit an invitation to the “head of the Vatican State” to visit the following year.
While the underlying reason for the visit is the encounter with Bartholomew I at the seat of the patriarchate, the ecumenical nature of the visit has taken a back seat over the last few weeks. The various media have focused, on the one hand, on tensions with Islam that emerged from the pope’s speech at the University of Regensburg, Germany, in which the pontiff recalled the words of Manuel Paleologos – Emperor of the defunct Byzantine Empire.