(Reuters) - Pope Benedict wound up a fence-mending visit to Turkey on Friday amid praise from the local press for visiting Istanbul's Blue Mosque and praying toward Mecca "like Muslims."
The Pope, who sparked protests across the Muslim world with a speech two months ago seen as criticizing Islam, looked relaxed and pleased as he entered the Cathedral of the Holy Spirit for a mass at the end of the sensitive four-day trip, reports Trend.
His first visit to a mostly Muslim country, held under tight security for fear of protests by nationalists and Islamists, was highlighted by a series of conciliatory gestures culminating in a stop on Thursday afternoon in Istanbul's famed Blue Mosque.
"The Pope's dreaded visit was concluded with a wonderful surprise," wrote daily Aksam on its front page.
"In Sultan Ahmet Mosque, he turned toward Mecca and prayed like Muslims," popular daily Hurriyet said, using the building's official name.
His gestures, including support for Ankara's bid to join the European Union and praise for Islam as a peaceful faith, seem to have persuaded the Turks to move beyond the tension following his speech quoting a Byzantine emperor as calling Islam violent.
But in Islam's Middle Eastern heartland, Arab commentators still call for Benedict to issue a full apology for his speech. Shocked by the protests it triggered, the Pope has said he did not agree with the controversial quote but has not apologized.
Catholic officials also presented the mosque visit, where Benedict stood in silent prayer while Istanbul Grand Mufti Mustafa Cagrici prayed aloud, as a key moment of reconciliation.
"I would compare the Pope's visit to the mosque to Pope John Paul's gestures at the Western Wall," said veteran Vatican mediator Cardinal Roger Etchegaray, referring to Pope John Paul II's prayers at Jerusalem's Western Wall in 2000.
"Yesterday, Benedict did with the Muslims what John Paul did with the Jews."