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Pope Francis to make historic visit to Turkey


Pope Francis will arrive in Turkey for what is billed as a historic visit to promote religious dialogue in the country.

The pontiff is to be greeted in Ankara by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and will later travel to Istanbul to meet the head of the Orthodox Christian church.

This is only the fourth visit by a pope to Muslim-majority Turkey.

During his trip, Pope Francis is likely to touch on humanitarian issues, such as the plight of Syrian refugees.

The three-day papal visit comes as Islamic State insurgents have captured swathes of neighboring Iraq and Syria.

Turkey is now home to at least 1.6 million people from Syria, most of them living close to the border.

In an interview on the eve of his visit, Pope Francis made his feelings on the Syrian conflict known,.

The pontiff told an Israeli newspaper that the persecution of Christians in the region is “the worst” it has been since Christianity’s earliest days.

Vatican officials say religious tolerance will be high on the agenda when Pope Francis meets President Recep Tayyip Erdogan – whose AK Party is rooted in political Islam – and Mehmet Gormez, Turkey’s top cleric.

In Istanbul, Pope Francis is scheduled to visit Istanbul’s Sultan Ahmed mosque, the 17th-Century place of worship popularly known as the Blue Mosque.

The pontiff is also due to sign a joint declaration with Patriarch Bartholomew I, the leader of 300 million Orthodox Christians, on trying to bridge the divides between Catholicism and Orthodox Christianity.

Although most of Turkey’s 80 million citizens are Muslims, there are about 120,000 Christians in the country – once the centre of the Orthodox Christian world.

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