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AsiaNews – After much hedging, the diplomatic but nonetheless clear response came yesterday from Ankara about the anticipated trip of Benedict XVI.

The eagerly awaited invitation from the Turkish state did reach the Vatican but with a vague and diplomatic: “We expect you in Turkey for 2006”, inexonorably placating “the pangs of the pope, which have shaken the state so much”; this is how insistence on the papal visit was defined by journalist Evren Mesci on the daily Sabah. President Ahmet Necdet Sezer invited the pontiff to go to Turkey in 2006 so he “can become aware in person of the climate of cultural tolerance” which prevails in this Muslim majority country. The trip, said the spokesperson for the Foreign Affairs Ministry, Namika Tan, “will encourage efforts to intensify dialogue between religions and mutual comprehension among civilizations at global level.”

Turkish newspapers have been giving importance to the pope’s visit to this nation for weeks now, especially as the planned date of his visit – fixed for 30 November, the feast of St Andrew – drew closer. It was Bartholomew I who extended the invitation to Benedict XVI, in line with a tradition now established between the Ecumenical Orthodox Patriarch and the highest authority in the Catholic world, started with Pope Paul VI and continued by John Paul II.

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It is precisely this type of invitation – taken for granted without the official invite of the president of the Turkish republic – which offended the civil authorities to no small extent: the pope must not forget that before being a religious leader, he is held by the Turks to be a head of state, the Vatican State, and he must therefore follow established rules and protocols.

Already two days ago, predictions of a probable refusal of the visit began to circulate in newspapers. These suspicions were rooted in three perturbing arguments: fear of being obliged to recognise the “ecumenical” Greek-Orthodox Patriarch and therefore to give him a universal standing and title, going beyond national boundaries; the embarrassing request of the pope to be able to pray in Santa Sofia; and the controversial declarations of Ratzinger – and not only him – which would call to question non-existent freedom of worship in Turkey.

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And Bartholomew I? Publicly he bowed his head, telling journalists: “For us, it would have been a great gesture if the pope would have been able to join us to participate in our celebrations and it seems natural to us that he should be allowed to visit ‘his little brother’, but now we have lost hope, seeing that Ankara has crushed our invitation. Certainly it is not a nice situation, but we do not want to insist nor do we want to create a crisis with the State. Our leaders have judged that it is better this way and we do not want to be obstinate.”

“But why did Ankara react in this way?” journalist Deger Akal asked himself in an article published today in Vatan. “According to Turkish sources, all the eyes of the world would have been focused on Turkey during the pope’s visit; Turkey fears criticism which could arise and does not want to face upfront heavy observations like those of the Vatican Nuncio in Ankara, Edmond Farhat. “ Turkey is a nation which is an enemy of Christians. It defines itself as a secular nation, but this freedom is only on paper.”…[Go To Full Story]