Tuesday, December 05, 2006

The Pope's "Moment of Prayer" at the Blue Mosque Heralds a New Chapter in Catholic Muslim Relations

Pope Benedict XVI joined Istanbul's Mufti (top Islamic cleric) Mustafa Cagrici in prayers under the towering dome of Istanbul's most famous mosque Thursday in a powerful gesture seeking to transform his image among Muslims from adversary to peacemaker. The pope's minute of prayer was done in silence, but the message of reconciliation was designed to resonate loudly nearly three months after he provoked worldwide fury for remarks on violence and the Prophet Muhammad.

"This visit will help us find together the way of peace for the good of all humanity," the pope said inside the 17th-century Blue Mosque — in only the second papal visit in history to a Muslim place of worship. Benedict's predecessor, John Paul II, made a brief stop in a mosque in Syria in 2001.

Benedict's steps through a stone archway and into the mosque's carpeted expanse capped a day of deep symbolism and lofty goals. Hours earlier, he stood beside the spiritual leader of the world's Orthodox Christians and passionately encouraged steps to end the nearly 1,000-year divide between their churches.

The pope walked to the mosque after touring another majestic tribute to faith: the 1,500-year-old Haghia Sofia and its remarkable mix of Quranic calligraphy and Christian mosaics from its legacy as a marvel of early Christianity and then a coveted prize of Islam's expansion.At the mosque, the pope removed his shoes and put on white slippers. Then he walked beside Mustafa Cagrici, the head cleric of Istanbul.

Facing the holy city of Mecca — in the tradition of Islamic worship — Cagrici said: "Now I'm going to pray." Benedict, too, bowed his head and his lips moved as if reciting words.Before the pope left, he thanked Cagrici "for this moment of prayer."


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