Pope Prays in Turkey With Muslim and Orthodox Leaders

Istanbul, Turkey - Pope Benedict XVI, who spurred waves of anger among Muslims just two months ago, stood Thursday in silent prayer, facing Mecca, beside a Muslim prelate in one of the world’s most important mosques.

The image of two men in white — the 79-year-old pope and Mustafa Cagrici, the chief of religious affairs for Istanbul — under the ornate domes of the Blue Mosque sealed a trip in which Pope Benedict repeatedly underscored his desire to reconcile Christians and Muslims.

How much of that goal he achieved here is unclear, after the deep anger over a speech criticized as equating Islam with violence. But Mr. Cagrici proclaimed the start good, with Benedict becoming only the second pope in 2,000 years known to have visited a mosque.

“Spring will not arrive by a single swallow,” he told the pope. “But more swallows will arrive, and we’re going to enjoy spring in the world all together.”

The two men exchanged nearly identical gifts of paintings of doves as signs of peace, a coincidence that seemed to amuse the pope. In turn, he told Mr. Cagrici, “With the help of God, we must find the way of peace together, for the good of humanity.”

But even with the symbolism of the mosque visit and a more diplomatic style, Pope Benedict showed Thursday that many of his basic concerns about the relationship between Christianity and Islam, as well as between West and East, had not vanished.

Twice on Thursday, the last day of his visit to Turkey, he referred to the “Christian roots of Europe” — long one of his themes, and one that has provoked some anger as seeming to minimize the contributions of others who now live there, especially the growing Muslim population.

He went further in a joint declaration with Bartholomew, the Orthodox Patriarch of Constantinople, of referring also to the Christian roots of Turkey — a historical fact, with the Byzantine church based here for more than a millennium, but a declaration that seemed to run the risk of offending his Muslim hosts.

On Thursday he again seemed to endorse Turkey’s entering the European Union — repeating the good-will gesture he made on Tuesday, his first day here — but he linked the step to a hope for specific progress in respecting the rights of minorities here. Turkey’s small population of Orthodox Christians complains of official harassment and bureaucratic obstacles that have prevented its members from operating freely.

Of the European Union, the pope wrote in his joint declaration with Patriarch Bartholomew, “Those engaged in this great project should not fail to take into consideration all aspects affecting the inalienable rights of the human person, especially religious freedom, a witness and guarantor of respect for all other freedoms.”

“In every step toward unification,” they wrote, “minorities must be protected, with their cultural traditions and the distinguishing features of their religion.”

Finally, he repeated a theme from the speech that caused the negative reaction in September in Regensburg, Germany, about his worry about violence in the cause of religion, though this time without mentioning any religion by name.

“Above all, we wish to affirm that killing innocent people in God’s name is an offense against him and against human dignity,” he and the patriarch wrote in their statement.

In all, the pope has seemed to toe a careful line of not backing down in substance — with the exception of cautiously blessing the progress of Turkey toward membership in the European Union — while presenting a more open, warmer face to an Islamic world that now deeply distrusts him.

The pope’s spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, said the September speech, however painful, had helped open a new vein of dialogue between Christians and Muslims. “Regensburg bore a positive fruit, in a certain sense,” he told reporters after the pope’s visit to the mosque.

Before Benedict’s visit, John Paul II became the first pope known to visit a mosque. It is usually reported that he did so first in Damascus in 2001, though a Jesuit priest active in interfaith dialogue said recently that the first such visit was actually in Senegal in 1992.

Benedict’s relations with Muslims were only one facet of the trip, and for the Vatican not the most important one in the long run. On Thursday, Benedict continued what he considered his main task here, to help heal the 1,000-year rift with the world’s 220 million Orthodox Christians.

For 40 years the two churches have been engaged in halting talks toward reuniting, and on Thursday the pope attended an Orthodox Divine Liturgy, and he and Bartholomew traded speeches that expressed hope for future negotiations toward unity.

Bartholomew is the spiritual head of the world’s Orthodox Christians, though not with the same power the pope holds over the world’s billion Catholics. The patriarch called the pope’s presence in Turkey part of the “unwavering journey toward the restoration of full communion among our churches,” which he said was God’s will and command.

“May it be so,” Bartholomew said.

Benedict’s twin goals of overcoming enmities, old and new, between Christians and Muslims and among Christians themselves, could not find a more apt or complicated stage than Istanbul, a fact that seemed particularly vivid in the final day before he travels back to Rome.

Here the dramas of two millenniums of conflict, distant but very real, play out perhaps as in no other place, endowing the pope’s visit with deep symbolic value — and presenting endless dangers for offense.

Before the pope visited the Blue Mosque, he toured Hagia Sophia, the present structure of which was built in the sixth century. It was the seat of the Byzantine church, which split from Roman Catholicism in 1054. After the Ottoman Turks defeated the Byzantines in 1453, the church was turned into a mosque. Ataturk, founder of the modern, secular Turkish state, turned it into a museum in 1935, making it neither Christian nor Muslim.

Hagia Sophia was closed to the general public during the pope’s tour, and quiet except for a handful of stray cats that scampered across the ancient marble. Many Turks were watching Benedict carefully to see if he would pray. Pope Paul VI got down on his knees when he visited in 1967. Though Pope Paul had permission, he outraged many Turks, who felt he was subtly claiming the building back for Christianity.

But Benedict played very much the tourist, merely nodding and asking questions as he stopped at an alcove that displayed the church’s split identity. Images of the Virgin Mary and the Christ child, in a ninth-century fresco, looked down from a dome to walls covered with Arabic calligraphy citing the names of God and the Prophet Muhammad.

After his tour the pope walked across the plaza — under the tightest security, with helicopters overhead and riot-equipped police officers with shields and tear gas — to the Blue Mosque, built in the early 17th century by Sultan Ahmed. The sultan’s goal was also part of the competition between religions, to prove that Muslims could outdo Christians, even in the majesty of their buildings.