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Pope Visits Religious Sites in Turkey

Pope Benedict XVI visited the Blue Mosque in Istanbul, becoming the second pope to enter a Muslim place of worship. He praised Islam and supported Turkey's bid to join the European Union during his four-day trip.

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    It was understood from the very beginning that Pope Benedict's visit to two of the best-known religious sites in the world were going to be very closely watched. How did that phase of the pope's visit go tonight?


    Well, it was tonight, Ray, and these two monuments to two of the world's great religions are right across a cobblestone sort of courtyard from one another.

    And the first on the left that he went to first was a cathedral for 1,000 years, the Hagia Sophia church, until the Ottoman conquest. Then it was a mosque for 500 years, and then forcibly converted into a museum by Ataturk in 1934.

    So the great anticipation had been: Would the pope do anything that would amount to any kind of religious expression inside the church? When Pope Paul VI came here in 1967, he dropped to his knees and began to pray, to the great consternation of his Turkish hosts and to massive protests in Turkey.

    The pope did none of that. He walked into this vast, vast space, where we went the other day. It clearly feels like a church. You go to the very end of it, and there's an apse there. And right at way, way up high, there's a beautiful mosaic of the Madonna and child. And he looked up at it, and he went — just as if, "Oh, isn't that beautiful?" And that was it.

    Then, right below it is what's called the mihrab, which is a niche that's in every mosque that indicates the direction of Mecca. So you have the two religions right there.

    The pope did nothing that amounted to prayer or even genuflecting, nothing that the Turkish press had been hyperventilating about for literally weeks.

    Then he was whisked away to the Blue Mosque. He did not walk; they did not expose him to any crowds in that way. In the Blue Mosque, this is what Turkish television has been playing over and over again, because there he did appear to pray.

    The imam, the grand mufti, the highest Islamic religious leader in Istanbul, showed him around, and at one point — they came to a certain point and the mufti said, "Well, now I'm going to pray." And he was silent. And the pope clasped his hands sort of at his waist, and bowed his head, and even seemed to be moving his lips.

    And later, I watched it on Turkish television, and the announcer said they prayed to the same God. Now, that may not be true; that is probably not true, except in a very cosmic sense. But it shows what impact the pope's gestures have had here apparently on Turkish public opinion.

    Again, the Turkish announcer kept saying he showed such great respect for Islam. The imam, when he was speaking to the pope, said, you know, "This visit has been a very welcome and positive event, and we greatly appreciate the pope's visit to us and his respect for Islam."

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