Benedict XVI Visits Mosque
A Gesture of Esteem at Istanbul Landmark

ISTANBUL, Turkey, NOV. 30, 2006 ( ).- Benedict XVI visited the Blue Mosque, the largest and most beautiful in Istanbul, as a public gesture of his esteem for Muslim faithful.

"We hope to find together paths of peace and fraternity to help humanity," the Pope said when thanking Mustafa Cagrici, the Grand Mufti of Istanbul, for allowing him to make the visit today.

The Grand Mufti was one of the signatories of a respectful but pointed open letter addressed to Benedict XVI in October, in the wake of the Pope's Sept. 12 address in Regensburg, Germany.

The Holy Father removed his shoes before entering the mosque, accompanied by the Grand Mufti and by the landmark's imam, Emanullah Hatiboglu.

After explaining how Muslims recollect themselves in prayer, the Grand Mufti began to pray. Next to the Muslim religious, and facing Mecca, the Pope recollected himself for a few minutes in silence.

The visit, which lasted some 30 minutes, ended with an exchange of gifts. The mufti gave the Pope the representation of a dove, symbol of peace, with the words from the Koran "in the name of God, clement and merciful."

The Bishop of Rome gave the Grand Mufti a mosaic in which doves were also depicted. On seeing the coincidence, the mufti commented: "A happy sign of fate."

"It is a message of fraternity, in memory of this visit which I shall surely never forget," said Benedict XVI.

He is the second Pope to enter a mosque's enclosure. John Paul II visited the Umayyad Mosque in Syria in May 2001.

Protected by an imposing security force, Benedict XVI had visited the Museum of St. Sophia, the ancient basilica of Constantinople, which had been converted into a mosque in 1453 after the conquest of the city.