Pope prays in mosque as part of new outreach
Pope Francis stood Saturday for two minutes of silent prayer facing east in one of Turkey's most important mosques, a powerful vision of Christian-Muslim understanding at a time when neighbouring countries are experiencing violent Islamic assault on Christians and religious minorities.
His head bowed, eyes closed and hands clasped in front of him, Francis prayed alongside the Grand Mufti of Istanbul, Rahmi Yaran, in the 17th-century Sultan Ahmet mosque, shifting gears to religious concerns on the second day of his three-day visit to Turkey.
"May God accept it," Yaran told the pope of their prayer.
The Vatican spokesman, Reverend Federico Lombardi, called it a moment of "silent adoration". Lombardi said Francis told the mufti twice that Christians and Muslims must "adore" God and not just praise and glorify him.
It was a remarkably different atmosphere from Francis' first day in Turkey, when the simple and frugal pope was visibly uncomfortable with the pomp and protocol required of him for the state visit part of his trip. With President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's mega palace, honour guard and horseback escort now behind him, Francis got down to the business of being pope, showing respect to Muslim leaders, celebrating Mass for Istanbul's tiny Catholic community and meeting with the spiritual leader of the world's 300 million Orthodox Christians.
Pope Francis bowed before Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I and asked him "to bless me and the church of Rome" at the end of an ecumenical service Saturday evening. The Orthodox leader obliged, kissing Francis' bowed head. The two major branches of Christianity represented by Bartholomew and Francis split in 1054 over differences on the primacy of the papacy, giving particular resonance to Francis' display of deference.
Francis' visit comes at an exceedingly tense time for Turkey, with Islamic State militants grabbing territory next door in Syria and Iraq and sending some 1.6 million refugees fleeing across the border. Some refugees were expected to attend Francis' final event on Sunday before he returns to Rome.