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Catholic Relations with Orthodoxy bring pope to Turkey
By David O’Reilly
The Philadelphia Inquirer


For the full story, go to Philadelphia Inquirer) – While much of the world wonders if Pope Benedict XVI will be met with violent Muslim demonstrations – or worse – when he visits Istanbul this week, it is Catholic relations with Orthodoxy, not Islam, that bring the pontiff to Turkey.

Muslims worldwide are still incensed by remarks Benedict made in September, when he linked Islam with violence and in the eyes of many insulted the Prophet Mohammad.

Some don’t want him to come at all; others are hoping for some words or signs that might repair the damage and restore Catholic-Islamic relations to the warmer days they knew under Benedict’s predecessor, Pope John Paul II.

But unlike John Paul – who once kissed a copy of the Quran – Benedict is not a man of grand, theatrical gestures.

And, regardless of what assurances of respect and admiration for the Muslim world the pontiff might issue this week, the core of his visit will be a Thursday meeting with Bartholomew, Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople and spiritual leader of the world’s 270 million Orthodox Christians.

“Benedict sees little theological difference (between Catholicism and Orthodoxy), and he identifies very much with Orthodoxy’s dynamism, its polity, its liturgy, and the fact that it speaks one of the original languages of the Church,” said Gibson, whose book, “The Rule of Benedict,” came out in September.

Both Benedict and Bartholomew are committed to resolving the bitter theological differences that have split their ancient churches for more than 1,000 years.

“This is not a public-relations ploy or means to a political end,” Marangos said in a phone interview from Istanbul . “The real intent of this trip, which was planned a year ago, was for the pope to visit the patriarchate and participate in prayer.”

Weigel said he nevertheless expects the meeting to be eclipsed in news reports by any demonstrations, violence or papal gestures to Islam.

In September the pontiff incensed much of the Muslim world when, in a lecture to German theologians at Regensburg University , he warned against the demise of religious reason.

Most of his Regensburg remarks were directed at the collapse of Christianity in Europe , but he also pointed to Islamic jihadism, and quoted a 14th century Byzantine emperor who called Islam “evil and inhuman.”

Those remarks so incensed Muslims that Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan originally said his schedule would not permit him to meet with Benedict during this trip; Monday, he agreed to greet him at Ankara ‘s airport before departing for the NATO summit in Latvia .

Erdogan’s reluctance to spend time with Benedict might also be based on concern that the pope will call attention to Turkey ‘s repression of non-Islamic faiths, which has slowed its efforts to join the European Union.

While Turkey is officially secular, the government recently closed the nation’s only Orthodox seminary and restricts public worship by non-Muslims.

Weigel said he hopes Benedict does not apologize for his September remarks and instead “lifts up for the attention of the world the very difficult circumstances in which the patriarchate is obliged to operate in Turkey .”

But Ali Khan, executive director of the Islamic Council of America, said in a phone interview Monday from Chicago that he had “great expectations” the pope will make a “significant gesture” towards the Muslim world this week.

“I think the (Muslim) reaction to his remarks was extreme,” said Khan. But, he added – perhaps more hopefully than accurately – the comments “did not do permanent damage.”

“He has not been pope for very long,” Khan said. “If he admits he made a mistake, let’s move on.”