Pope arrives for Turkish visit

Published: Friday 28th November 2014 by The News Editor

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Pope Francis has arrived in Turkey for a visit at a sensitive moment for the Muslim nation, as it cares for 1.6 million refugees and weighs how to deal with Islamic State fighters across its southern border.

Francis is expected to use his opening speeches to denounce the violence being committed in God’s name by the extremists, and to express solidarity with Christians and other religious minorities who have been targeted by the onslaught.

The Pope was greeted by a line of Turkish dignitaries, headed by foreign minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, as he descended the steps of his plane at Ankara’s Esenboga Airport. He inspected and greeted Turkish honour guards before heading to the mausoleum of the Turkish republic’s founder, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, where he was to lay a wreath.

Francis paid tribute to Turkey’s willingness to host refugees during a brief encounter with journalists aboard the papal plane, praising its humanitarian response to “so many refugees from conflict zones”.

The three-day visit will give Francis a chance to reach out to Turkey’s tiny Christian community – less than 1% of Turks are Catholic – and meet the spiritual leader of the world’s Orthodox Christians, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I.

Francis will tour two of Istanbul’s most impressive sites, the Hagia Sofia complex – the Byzantine church-turned-mosque that is now a museum – and the nearby Sultan Ahmet mosque, Turkey’s most important place of Muslim worship.

Security will be tight: Turkish media reports said 2,700 police would be on duty during the Ankara leg of the trip, and that a court had issued an order allowing officers to stop and search cars and carry out random identity checks on people along routes used by the Pope.

On the eve of his trip, Francis repeated that it was legitimate to use force to stop the Islamic State advance, but only with the endorsement of the international community. Asked whether dialogue was possible with a group that is targeting religious minorities, Francis said: “Maybe you can’t have a dialogue, but you must never close the door.”

Published: Friday 28th November 2014 by The News Editor

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