Benedict XV1: Loves Turkey! Flip-flops on earlier veto of Turkey's EU entry Print E-mail

London -- November 29, 2006

Bareheaded security men mingle among the cardinals as the Pope leads the way after visiting the Ataturk mausoleum, Ankara, where he was greeted by the Prime Minister yesterday (KAI PFAFFENBACH/REUTERS)

Pope gives blessing toTurkey's EU campaign

Richard Owen, Ankara

The Pope arrived in Turkey yesterday and within minutes appeared to back the country’s bid to enter the EU. He appealed for Christian-Muslim reconciliation and called on all religious leaders to “utterly refuse to support any form of violence in the name of faith”.

His controversial and potentially hazardous visit to an overwhelmingly Muslim country ­ it was intended originally to help reconciliation between Catholics and Orthodox Christians ­ was “pastoral, not political”, he insisted.

The build-up has been marked by setbacks in Turkey’s bid for EU membership ­ which Benedict XVI as a cardinal once termed a grave error ­ and a row in the Muslim world over his remarks about Islam in a university address two months ago.

His attempt to launch the four-day trip in a spirit of dialogue immediately came up against political realities. Asked by Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the Turkish Prime Minister, about the country’s EU prospects moments after his arrival, Pope Benedict voiced his support. “He said, ‘We’re not political, but we wish for Turkey to join the EU’,” Mr Edogan told reporters after the meeting.

However, a papal spokesman later clarified the Pope’s remarks, saying that he had told the Turkish leader that the Vatican did not have the power or competence to intervene, but “viewed positively and encouraged” the process of Turkish entry into the EU “on the basis of common values and principles”.

Mr Erdogan had also made an about-turn by agreeing to greet Benedict XVI at Ankara airport and hold talks there. In a break with protocol he greeted the Pope, 79, at the steps of his aircraft, a mark of respect from a leader who had initially said that he was too busy to meet him.

The Pope in turn appeared to nod understandingly when Mr Erdogan explained that he had to attend the Nato summit in Riga. Mr Erdogan said: “The most important message the Pope gave was toward Islam, reiterating his view of Islam as peaceful and affectionate.”

The Pope went on to meet Ali Bardakoglu, head of the Religious Affairs Directorate and Turkey’s top Muslim official, who accused him of encouraging “Islamophobia” with his remarks at Regensburg University two months ago, when the Pope quoted a medieval Christian emperor who linked Islam to violence and “inhumanity”.

Dr Bardakoglu lectured an uncomfortable-looking Pope, telling him: “When religious leaders come together they should concentrate on solving the common problems of mankind without trying to demonstrate the superiority of their own beliefs.”

In talks with Dr Bardakoglu, the Pope also praised “the flowering of Islamic civilisation” in Turkey and said that Christians and Muslims both valued the sacred and “the dignity of the person . . . This is the basis of our mutual respect and esteem. We are called to work together via authentic dialogue.”

Dr Bardakoglu agreed that religions should come together to solve the world’s “spiritual, ethical and humanitarian” crisis, including attacks on family values. But he pointedly observed that although Muslims condemned all types of violence and terror, accusations had been made that Islam was “spread by the sword”.

He said that this Islamophobia was regrettable, and based on prejudice rather than any “scientific or historical research or data”.