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Pope Benedict XVI to visit Turkey, where he's deeply unpopular

ANKARA, Turkey—Pope Benedict XVI arrives in the Turkish capital Tuesday looking to heal two rifts, one largely of his own making and the other more than 1,000 years old.

The first is Muslim anger at a speech in which he said Islam was spread by violence. The second is the centuries-old schism between the Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches.

The pope is deeply unpopular in Turkey, but Turkish leaders have called on the nation to show him hospitality as a guest.

The Vatican also seemed to be trying to improve relations. It said in a statement: "Turkey, an officially secular state, which acts as a bridge between Europe and Asia and is home to various religious traditions, is, as it were, a balcony looking out on the Middle East, from which the values of inter-religious dialogue, tolerance, reciprocity and the secular character of the state can be reaffirmed."

The pope planned to meet Tuesday at the airport with Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who'd said last week that he didn't have time to meet Benedict. Erdogan will be at the airport en route to a NATO summit.

The pope also will meet Tuesday with President Ahmet Necdet Sezer, and both are scheduled to give brief public speeches.

The pope is expected to address comments he's made that fueled belief in the Muslim world that he's anti-Muslim and in Turkey that he's anti-Turk.

In a speech in September, he quoted the Byzantine Emperor Manuel II Paleologus as saying: "Show me just what Muhammad brought that was new and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached."

Before he became pope, Benedict criticized Turkey's possible entry into the European Union, saying that "throughout history Turkey has always represented another continent, in permanent contrast with Europe."

A protest over his visit attracted an estimated 20,000 people Sunday in Istanbul, according to Turkish news reports. More than 4,000 police officers were on hand for the protest, and security remains very high for the pope's four-day visit.

Member of Parliament Deniz Baykal called Monday on all Turks "to remember that while he is our guest, we are responsible for him; nothing bad should happen to him."

"What our guest says, what he does and will do is important," Justice Minister Cemil Cicek said Monday. "We hope the visit will become a turning point in relations between Christianity and Islam, because his remarks in September led to outrage and justified reactions."

The pope also will meet in Istanbul with Patriarch Bartholomew I, the leader of the world's Orthodox Christians.

Turkish historian Melek Delibasi said that the church schism, which generally is dated to 1054, is considered to have weakened Christianity in the area. Today there are estimated to be fewer than 100,000 Christians in Turkey, a country of almost 70 million people that's 99 percent Muslim.

"There are those who portray this split as purely political, but I think that's an oversimplification, because in the church theology always matters," said Rachel Fulton, a University of Chicago Divinity School historian. "In any case, through the years the political issues tended to get solved; the theological issues tended to linger."

The schism began over issues of doctrine and whether the Roman pope had power over the entire church. One key difference is reflected in the words of the creed, in which Roman Catholics and other Western Christians say the Holy Spirit "proceeds from the Father and the Son" and Orthodox Christians say, "the Holy Spirit, proceeding from the Father."


(c) 2006, McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

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