Monday, November 27, 2006

Pray for the Pope

Pope Benedict XVI is scheduled to leave tomorrow morning on a 9:00 o'clock flight from Rome's Fiumicino Airport to Ankara, Turkey. Thus will begin the Pope's long anticipated visit to this country in a Muslim world in many ways ill-disposed to receive him. Shouting "Allahu akbar!" Muslim protestors occuppied the Hagia Sophia in Instanbul on Wednesday, Nov. 22nd, to protest the Pope's visit. On Thursday, Nov. 23rd, the Anatolia news agency reported that "Two men who converted to Christianity went on trial Thursday for allegedly insulting 'Turkishness' and inciting religious hatred against Islam" ("Christian converts on trial in Turkey"). Yesterday (Sunday, Nov. 26th), more than 25,000 people joined demonstrations against Pope Benedict XVI's upcoming visit, with 4,000 police backed by riot trucks, armored vehicles and helicopters monitoring crowds ("25,000 Protest Pope's Visit to Turkey," ABC News International, Nov. 26, 2006). (La Stampa has a live video clip of local protests in Istanbul today: "Il Papa in Turchia: le proteste locali.")

In its cover story of Nov. 19th, Time magazine's David Van Biema writes:
For the traveling Pontiff, it was not a laid-back Turkish holiday. The citizens of the proud, predominantly Muslim nation had no love of Popes. To the East, the Iranian government was galvanizing anti-Western feeling. The news reported that an escaped killer was on the loose, threatening to assassinate the Pontiff when he arrived. Yet the Holy Father was undaunted. "Love is stronger than danger," he said. "I am in the hands of God." ... He enjoined both Christians and Muslims to "seek ties of friendship with other believers who invoke the name of a single God."

That was 1979 and Pope John Paul II. But when Benedict XVI travels to Turkey ... on his first visit to a Muslim country since becoming Pope last year, he is unlikely to cloak himself in a downy banner of brotherhood, the way his predecessor did 27 years ago. Instead, Benedict, 79, will arrive carrying a different reputation: that of a hard-knuckle intellect with a taste for blunt talk and interreligious confrontation. Just 19 months into his tenure, the Pope has become as much a moral lightning rod as a theologian; suddenly, when he speaks, the whole world listens. And so what takes place over four days in three Turkish cities has the potential to define his papacy--and a good deal more. "The Passion of the Pope" (Time, Nov. 19, 2006)
It will be recalled that the Grand Mufti of the Palestinian Territories, Sheikh Mohammad Hussein, said the Pope must make "a personal and clear apology to 1.5 billion Muslims in this world for the insult caused by his lecture [in Regensburg] ..." ("Pope faces Muslim calls for unequivocal apology," Free Republic, 9/19/06)

Last month, two Turks hijacked a Turkish airliner carrying 113 passengers to protest the pope's visit to Turkey ("Turks hijack airliner to protest pope's visit," Chicago Sun Times, Oct. 3, 2006)

Mehmet Ali Agca, the man who is serving a life sentence (now in Turkey) for the attempted assassination of Pope John Paul II in May 1981, has written to Pope Benedict XVI from jail, warning him not to go to Turkey as planned. In a letter to an Italian daily newspaper, he addressed the Pope ominously: "Your life is in danger. You absolutely must not come to Turkey." ("Papal assassin warns Pope Benedict his 'life is in danger' if he visits Turkey,", London, 9/20/06)

This morning's London Telegraph carries the headline article, "Pope death threats put Turkey on high alert" (, Nov. 27, 2006), reporting: "An army of snipers, riot police, secret agents and bomb disposal experts has been mobilised for the Pope's four-day visit to Turkey. Naval units will patrol the Bosphorus armed with machine guns after warnings to police and security services that the life of Benedict XVI may be threatened by Islamic extremists after he arrives on Tuesday."

Finally, Adnkronos International (AKI) reports that "Sales of Pope Murder Book Soar Ahead of Benedict XVI's Visit," referring to a book by Yuvel Kaya entitled The Plot Against the Pope -- "a highly speculative potboiler narrating how the conservative Roman Catholic society Opus Dei, a subversive masonic lodge and the CIA collude to make the pontiff's murder a pretext for a US attack against Iran."

The Pope's Itinerary

The Vatican has released the full schedule for Pope's visit to Turkey (Nov. 13,, which is set for November 28 - December 1, 2006:
The high point of the papal voyage remains the Holy Father's meeting with the Orthodox Patriarch Bartholomew I of Constantinople (pictured below, right). But during his stay the Pontiff will also meet with Turkish government officials and with other religious officials including Muslim, Jewish, and Armenian clerics as well as leaders of the country's small Catholic community.
November 28
The Pope will leave Rome's Fiumicino airport on Tuesday morning, November 28, for a 9 o'clock flight to Ankara, arriving there at Esenboga airport early in the afternoon. He will travel immediately to the mausoleum of Kemal Ataturk, the founder of modern Turkey, and later pay courtesy call on President Necdet Sezer. (In a break from the usual protocol, the Turkish government leader will not meet the Pope's plane at the airport.) Later the Pope will meet with other top government officials, including the deputy prime minister and the minister for religious affairs.
November 29
On November 29, Pope Benedict will celebrate Mass at Ephesus, the site of St. Paul's missionary work. Then he will travel to Istanbul, to be received by Patriarch Bartholomew (pictured right) at the patriarchal church of St. George.
November 30
November 30 is the feast of St. Andrew, the patron saint of the Constantinople see. The Roman Pontiff will join the Ecumenical Patriarch in a liturgical celebration, and then the two are expected to sign a joint statement.

That afternoon, the Pope will visit the Hagia Sophia: once a Christian basilica, later a mosque, and now a national museum. Then he will visit the city's Armenian cathedral, for a meeting with Armenian Apostolic Patriarch Mesrop II. Later he will meet the local leaders of the Syrian Orthodox, Jewish, Evangelical, and Muslim communities. He is scheduled to have dinner with the country's Catholic bishops.
November 31
On Friday morning the Pope will celebrate Mass in Istanbul's Catholic cathedral of the Holy Spirit.
December 1
His Holiness will celebrate Mass at the Cathedral of the Holy Spirit; then head for the airport for a farewell ceremony and 13:15 departure from the Airport of Istanbul for Rome. Deo volente, that evening will find him safely home in Rome.
For further details, see the substantial synopsis of related news items posted by Christopher Blosser at Against the Grain under the title of Anticipating Benedict's Papal Visit to Turkey (Nov.24, 2006), with continuing updates.

Update 11/28/06
  • CHANGE OF PLANS: TURKISH PREMIER WILL GREET POPE: Nov. 27 ( - In a noteworthy reversal of policy, the Turkish government has announced that Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan will greet Pope Benedict XVI when the Pontiff arrives in Ankara on November 28. The Vatican warmly welcomed the move, saying it was a "much appreciated... gesture of attention."

  • VATICAN ANNOUNCES PAPAL VISIT TO MOSQUE, AS TURKS CONTINUE TO PROTEST: Vatican City, Nov. 27, 2006 (CNA) - In what is being reported as an attempt to “ease Muslim anger” by the Turkish press, Pope Benedict XVI will visit Istanbul’s famed Blue Mosque (Sultanahmet) -- which stands in a square of the same name in the historical district of Istanbul, opposite the “Aya Sofya” (or Hagia Sophia) museum -- during his visit to Turkey this week. Vatican Press Office director Fr. Federico Lombardi confirmed Sunday that Benedict will pay a short visit to the mosque on Nov. 30, the same day he is scheduled to visit the Hagia Sophia, which was converted to a mosque and is now a museum.

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