Catholic World News News Feature
Pope visits, prays at Istanbul mosque November 30, 2006
Pope Benedict XVI visited the famous Blue Mosque in Istanbul on November 30, becoming the 2nd Roman Pontiff to visit an Islamic house of worship.
After a tour of the Hagia Sophia-- the magnificent building was once a Christian basilica, then a mosque, and is now a museum-- the Holy Father continued to the neighboring Blue Mosque, where he was greeted by the grand mufti of Istanbul, Mustafa Cagrici.
Near the conclusion of his visit to the mosque, the Pope stood facing to the east as the Muslim cleric, standing beside him, prayed aloud. The Pontiff remained silent, but moved his lips, evidently in prayer. As he ended his visit, the Pontiff said that he hoped his gesture would help to open "the paths to peace for the good of mankind."
The 20-minute visit to the mosque-- a last-minute addition to the public schedule for the trip-- began with the Pope removing his shoes, in deference to the Islamic custom, and donning a pair of white slippers as he entered the mosque. After being guided through the building by the mufti, he accepted the Muslim leader's invitation to face Mecca together for the time of prayer.
Earlier the Pontiff had taken a tour of the Hagia Sophia. While a large crowd of anti-papal protestors demonstrated outside the building, Pope Benedict walked through the ancient structure-- built in its current glory under the Emperor Justinian, and transformed into a mosque after the Islamic conquest in 1453. The secular Turkish republic turned the building into a museum after the Blue Mosque was built, challenging the size of the earlier Christian church.
The demonstrations against the Pope's visit were triggered in part by memories of a similar visit in 1967, by Pope Paul VI. During that visit, Pope Paul caused a furor by falling to his knees in prayer inside the building, giving rise to bitter complaints that he was implicitly trying to reclaim the building as a Christian church. Pope John Paul II made no such gesture during his tour of the Hagia Sophia in 1979, nor did Pope Benedict XVI today.
Pope Benedict's visit to the Blue Mosque was the 2nd such papal gesture. In May 2001, during his visit to Syria, Pope John Paul II stopped at the Omayyad Mosque in Damascus.