11/27/2006, 00.00
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Turkey's Catholics, Orthodox pray for pope's arrival

by Mavi Zambak

Christians must travel for 18 hours to participate in mass with Benedict XVI in Ephesus. The pontiff's words in yesterday's Angelus about the "dear Turkish people" have been described by the media as a "warm and friendly message".

Ankara (AsiaNews) – Responding to the appeal of Benedict XVI, tonight all Catholic communities in Turkey will hold prayer vigils to accompany and welcome the pope throughout his trip to Turkey. Yesterday, after recital of the Angelus, the pontiff asked the faithful to accompany him in prayer so that "this pilgrimage may bear all the fruits that God desires".

Heartened by the flop of a nationalist manifestation in Istanbul, which was calling for "no to the pope in Turkey", Catholics are busy preparing for prayers tonight and for a long trip tomorrow that will ferry them to Ephesus, where they will participate in mass near Our Lady's house (Meryemn Ana).

In Antioch, a prayer meeting will be held by Catholics and Orthodox together. For 15 years, in the city where the disciples of Jesus were called "Christians" (cfr Act 11:26), Catholics celebrate Easter on the same date as the Orthodox, they participate in each other's activities, celebrate marriages and funerals together and collaborate for works of charity in the city. This ecumenical experience – shared by the Catholic parish priest, Fr Domenico Bertogli and the Greek-Orthodox priests – is in line with the hopes of Benedict XVI, who is coming to Turkey with "ardent emotion" to unite "fraternally with the Orthodox Church on the feast of the apostle St Andrew."

From Antioch, tomorrow afternoon, all Christians (mostly Catholics but certainly also Orthodox and Armenians) will travel in coaches from the Vicariate of Anatolia – a vast territory one and half times the size of Italy – to Ephesus, a journey of more than 1000 km and at least 18 hours.

Christians in Turkey make up 0.6% of the population, with Catholics amounting to 32,000.

Yesterday, at the Angelus, the pope had very cordial words for the Turkish people: "From this moment, I want to send cordial greetings to the dear Turkish people, rich in history and culture; to these people and its leaders, I express sentiments of respect and sincere friendship." The words of the pope were accurately reported by the mass media that described them as a "warm and friendly message".

The media gave very little coverage to a rally by the Muslim radical party "of happiness" that yesterday mobilized more than 60 Muslim groups to fill the streets of Caglayan (the European part of Istanbul) with 3,500 banners and 50,000 posters to reject the pope's visit. But the manifestation was a flop that gathered – according to Turkish media – only 10,000 people: nothing compared to a population of more than 70 million.

The Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan had predicted that the rally would be insignificant. The manifestation unfolded peacefully, with written and verbal protests, but no clashes and no vandalism.

Yesterday, no TV station broadcast the rally live. Evening news bulletins of both public and private channels, gave more importance to the fainting fit of Berlusconi, described as "Erdogan's friend", than to a gathering of yelling "women, elderly and children", as one journalist described it.

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