Pope Seeks to Boost Image Among Muslims Pope Benedict XVI's trip to Turkey was originally intended to focus on links with the Orthodox Christian church. But it has been expanded to cover relations the Muslims.
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Pope Seeks to Boost Image Among Muslims

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Pope Seeks to Boost Image Among Muslims

Pope Seeks to Boost Image Among Muslims

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

Pope Benedict is in the second day of his politically sensitive trip to Turkey. He's hoping to end the outcry from many Muslims over his earlier remarks linking Islam to violence. In a moment, we'll hear from an Islamic scholar about the Muslim perspective on the pope and the Catholic Church.

First, Pope Benedict said mass today at a small sanctuary in the Turkish town of Ephesus. That's where, according to legend, Mary, the mother of Jesus, died. The sanctuary is visited every year by tens of thousands of Christians and Muslims. The pope then travels to Istanbul to meet with the spiritual leader of the Orthodox Church.

For more on the pope's trip, we turn to John Allen, who's traveling with Pope Benedict. He's Vatican correspondent for the National Catholic Reporter. And, John, you're traveling, as I said, with the pope. How's he been received so far?

Mr. JOHN ALLEN: Well, I think the reception has been today to overwhelmingly positive. Certainly, the mood on the street I think has been very warm. This is in part of course because Benedict yesterday indicated effectively his support for Turkey's aspiration to join the European Union, marking a reversal in his earlier position as cardinal in opposition of the Turkish candidacy. And further, at every turn he has stressed his respect and esteem for Muslims, his desire for dialogue and for peace, for reconciliation. I think all of that has been broadly well received.

MONTAGNE: And the pope's original purpose, as we said, was to visit the Eastern Orthodox Church and its patriarch, which he's doing today. But as you say, his first day was filled it appears with gestures towards Muslims. Besides his endorsement of Turkey joining the EU, what else did he do in that way?

Mr. ALLEN: Well, when we were on the plane with the pope he stressed particularly in terms of outreach to Muslims; this trip was largely symbolic. So I don't think there was any new concrete proposal for taking the dialogue forward. That's going to be work for the coming months. But I think symbolically, the fact that he physically visited the religious affairs directorate here in Turkey rather than insisting that that official come to him, the fact that he has added a visit to the Blue Mosque in Istanbul to his schedule for Thursday.

And in his repeated emphasis on his desire for good relations, emphasizing his esteem and his respect for Muslims, all of that carries enormous symbolic importance, and particularly of course in the wake of his remarks on September 12th at the University of Regensburg, in effect equating Islam to violence that set off a firestorm of reaction in the Islamic world.

So if the aim of this visit was to try to get the dialogue between the Vatican and the Islamic world back on track, it certainly seems that Benedict has been on message throughout the first couple of days in his visit.

MONTAGNE: John, step back for a moment and characterize for us this pope's understanding of Islam.

Mr. ALLEN: Well, I think there are probably two points worth making. One is that Benedict clearly does have a slightly tougher line on Islam than his predecessor John Paul II, who was a great pioneer of Catholic-Islamic relations, the first pope to enter a mosque and so on. Benedict wants to continue that dialogue, but wants it to be a substantive dialogue focusing above all on terrorism and the need for a clearer rejection of religious violence from Islamic leaders.

And secondly, what the Vatican calls reciprocity, where broadly speaking means religious freedom, especially for religious minorities, including Christians, in the 56 majority Muslim nations on Earth. On the other hand, Benedict clearly does want good working relations with Islam, because at the end of the day the fundamental clash of civilization that he sees in the world does not run between Islam and the West, it runs between belief and unbelief, that is between cultures that prize religion, prize the supernatural, and those that don't. And in that regard he thinks of Muslims as his natural allies. So I think what one can say is that he understands himself to be trying to promote a reform within Islam from the inside as a friend of Muslims, and that has been his consistent theme.

MONTAGNE: John, thanks very much for joining us. John Allen is the Vatican correspondent for the National Catholic Reporter traveling with Pope Benedict in Turkey.

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