He asks for dialogue and brotherhood. Who in the Islamic world will reciprocate? By Brian Murphy for Associated Press:
ANKARA, Turkey – Pope Benedict XVI began his first visit to a Muslim country Tuesday with a message of dialogue and “brotherhood” between Christians and Muslims in an attempt to ease anger over his perceived criticism of Islam.
Two months after the pope touched off fury across the Islamic world with remarks linking violence and Prophet Muhammad, the Turkish prime minister “” in a last-minute change of plans “” was on hand at the airport in Turkey’s capital to greet the pontiff.
“All feel the same responsibility in this difficult moment in history, let’s work together,” Benedict said during his flight from Rome to Ankara, where more than 3,000 police and sharpshooters joined a security effort that surpassed even the visit of President Bush two years ago.
The pope used his first moments of his four-day trip to try to mend fences with Islamic leaders.
“We know that the scope of this trip is dialogue and brotherhood and the commitment for understanding between cultures … and for reconciliation,” he told reporters on his plane.
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan welcomed the pope at the foot of the plane.
“I want to express happiness to see you and your delegation in our country,” Erdogan told the pope before meeting with him privately. He described the pope’s visit as “very meaningful.”
Erdogan, who was bound for a NATO summit in Latvia, had only announced the day before that he would make time to meet Benedict in a nation where many people view the pope with suspicion. Erdogan’s political party has Islamic roots, though the government is secular.
In his first official act, Benedict visited the mausoleum of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founder of modern Turkey, and wrote a message in a guest book calling Turkey “a meeting point of different religions and cultures and a bridge between Asia and Europe.”
Police monitored the highway leading to Ankara from the airport, where Turkish and Vatican flags waved in a light breeze. Snipers climbed atop buildings and hilltops. In wooded areas along the route, soldiers in camouflage fatigues set up observation points and sniffer dogs passed along bridges.