09/10/2005, 00.00
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Turkey confirms preparations are under way for papal visit

Vatican City (AsiaNews) – The possibility that Benedict XVI will realize his desire to visit Turkey is becoming stronger. The Turkish government has officially declared that negotiations are under way with the Vatican to define the terms of the papal trip which may take place between 28 and 30 November (the same days, 26 years on, of the visit of John Paul II), even if no mention has been made of dates as yet.

In recent days, Cardinal Walter Kasper, president of the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of Christian Unity, had said that the Pope "intends to go to Turkey" to visit the Ecumenical Patriarch. The invitation of the patriarchate has been issued, he said, adding that government approval was as yet lacking but "we are expecting it".

The invitation from Bartholomew I, Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople has been there practically from the day the current pope was elected and as far as is known, it was issued for a time which includes 30 November, the feast day of St Andrew, the apostle considered as founder of that Church.

As for the Turkish government, today a statement from the Ministry for Foreign Affairs confirmed that "deliberations are under way about the date of the visit" and that "Turkey gives great importance to the matter of Benedict XVI's visit". The ministry denied news released by the Turkish newspaper Radikal, which said the Pope had expressed the desire to be able to go to pray in Istanbul in St Sofia, today a mosque and once a Christian church. At this stage, said the ministry, "no specifics of the visit have been decided as yet".

As for Benedict XVI, his motivation to visit, even if only "in honour" of the orthodox patriarchs, is rooted in his desire to promote ecumenical dialogue, which he has made one of the fundamental commitments of his entire pontificate.

Security concerns, however, have not passed by unnoticed. The Turkish press has stressed some declarations by the then Cardinal Ratzinger, statements not particularly in favour of the country joining the EU which have since earned him the definition of "enemy". In the west, meanwhile, mention has already been made of John Paul II's visit to Turkey, when a man condemned for murder threatened him with death from within his prison cell. That man was called Ali Agca.

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