Pope Francis begins his three-day visit to Ankara and Istanbul today, the fourth ever visit of a Pope to Turkey, with a heavy agenda hurriyet daily news
As turmoil continues to roil the Middle East, Pope Francis' visit has been framed as an opportunity to promote dialogue and tolerance between Muslims and Christians, as well as a chance for the Vatican to strengthen its ties with the Orthodox Church.
Turkish Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Tanju Bilgic told reporters on Nov. 27 that the issue of "alliance of civilizations, dialogue between cultures, xenophobia, the fight against racism and political developments in the region" would be on the agenda during the trip.
900 media members to cover the Pope's visit
Pope Francis, who generally prefers not to stay in hotels on foreign trips, will use the residence of the Vatican Embassy in Turkey during the visit, according to Turkish officials.
The Vatican had also reportedly asked Ankara to assign a modest "Ford Focus" model car for the Pope's use during his visit, but the Turkish authorities instead offered an official German armored state car that is in general use for Turkish protocol.
Some 900 media members have been accredited to cover Pope Francis' visit to Turkey, 69 of whom are traveling with him.
During his visit to Ankara, Pope Francis will deliver a speech to representatives of diplomatic missions and the press in Turkey's controversial new "Ak Saray" presidential palace, followed by an address at the Religious Affairs Directorate (Diyanet). He will be hosted by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu and Diyanet head Mehmet Gormez.
During his visit to Istanbul on Nov. 29-30, the pope will visit the Hagia Sophia Museum, originally built as an Eastern Orthodox cathedral in the 6th century before being converted into a mosque after the Ottoman conquest in 1453. It is now open to the public as a museum.
Pope Francis will also visit the Blue Mosque and celebrate Mass at the Catholic Cathedral of the Holy Spirit.
The pope will later offer a prayer at the Orthodox Patriarchal Church of St. George, followed by a private meeting with Greek Orthodox Patriarch Bartholomew I. The pope will celebrate a private Mass on Nov. 30, followed by a divine liturgy and the signing of a joint declaration with Bartholomew.
Bartholomew previously visited the Vatican for the inaugural mass of Pope Francis, the first time in history that a Greek Orthodox Patriarch had attended the installation of a pope.
"We are eagerly awaiting the visit of our brother, Pope Francis," Bartholomew said ahead of the visit. "It will be yet another significant step in our positive relations as sister Churches."