ISTANBUL – Pope Francis stood Saturday for two minutes of silent prayer facing east in one of Turkey’s most important mosques, a powerful vision of Christian-Muslim understanding at a time when neighboring countries experience violent Islamicassault on Christians and religious minorities.
His head bowed, eyes closed and hands clasped in front of him, Francis prayed alongside the Grand Mufti of Istanbul, Rahmi Yaran, in the 17th-century Sultan Ahmet mosque, shifting gears to religious concerns on the second day of his three-day visit to Turkey.
“May God accept it,” Yaran told the pope of their prayer.
The Vatican spokesman, Rev. Federico Lombardi called it a moment of “silent adoration.” Lombardi said Francis told the mufti twice that Christians and Muslims must “adore” God and not just praise and glorify him.
It was a remarkably different atmosphere from Francis’ first day in Turkey, when the simple and frugal pope was visibly uncomfortable with the pomp and protocol required of him for the state visit part of his trip. Francis got down to the business of being pope on Saturday, showing respect to Muslim leaders, celebrating Mass for Istanbul’s tiny Catholic community and meeting with the spiritual leader of the world’s 300 million Orthodox Christians.
Francis’ visit comes at an exceedingly tense time for Turkey, with Islamic State militants grabbing territory next door in Syria and Iraq and sending some 1.6 million refugees fleeing across the border. Some refugees were expected to attend Francis’ final event on Sunday before he returns to Rome.
Francis nodded, smiled and looked up in awe as Yaran gave him a tour of the Blue Mosque, famed for its elaborate blue tiles and cascading domes. Presenting the pope with a blue, tulip-designed tile, Yaran said he prayed to God that his visit would “contribute to the world getting along well and living in peace.”
“We are in need of prayers. The world really needs prayers,” Yaran said.
Later on Saturday, the spiritual leader of the world’s Orthodox Christians, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I, attended a mass Francis celebrated in the Holy Spirit Cathedral in Istanbul. Francis bowed before Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I and asked him “to bless me and the church of Rome” at the end of an ecumenical service Saturday evening. The Orthodox leader obliged, kissing Francis’ bowed head. The two major branches of Christianity represented by Bartholomew and Francis split in 1054 over differences on the primacy of the papacy, giving particular resonance to Francis’ display of deference.
In his homily, Francis called for unifying all Christians — a theme he was expected to repeat today during a liturgy in Bartholomew’s ecumenical patriarchate and in a joint statement.
Islamic State attack:Just one day after Pope Francis called for more Muslim opposition to the extremists, the Islamic State group launched an attack Saturday on the Syrian border town of Kobani from Turkey, a Kurdish official and activists said, although Turkey denied that the fighters had used its territory for the raid. The assault began when a suicide bomber driving an armored vehicle detonated his explosives on the border crossing between Kobani and Turkey. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said at least eight Kurdish fighters and 17 jihadis were killed.
Mustafa Bali, a Kobani-based activist, said that Islamic State group fighters have taken positions in the grain silos on the Turkish side of the border and from there are launching attacks toward the border crossing point. He added that the U.S.-led coalition launched an air strike Saturday morning on the eastern side of the town. The Islamic State group claimed three suicide attacks in Kobani’s border crossing point.