Pope Francis with Grand Mufti Rahmi Yaran at the Blue Mosque. Photograph: AP.
Despite the fact that his predecessor was severely criticized for a similar move almost eight years ago, Pope Francis visited the Blue Mosque in Turkey to highlight and honor his commitment to interfaith dialogue.
The Holy Father stood alongside Istanbul’s Grand Mufti Rahmi Yaran, facing Mecca, and bowed his head in prayer for several minutes – a gesture the Vatican later described as a “moment of silent adoration” of God.
As the Muslim call to prayer rang out across the area surrounding the historical mosque, people in the crowd outside cheered Pope Francis, chanting “long live Pope Francis” in Italian and waving Turkish and Vatican flags.
“We must show respect for each other’s beliefs. God willing, the pope’s visit will help in this respect,” Halil Ibrahim Cil, 24, a hospital worker from Istanbul, told Reuters.
“We want to practice our religion in peace. We want people to understand Islam. We don’t want war.”
However, not everyone was happy upon the pope’s arrival.
Supporters of pro-Islamist Felicity Party shouted slogans as they protested against his visit – a backlash similar to the one observed in 2006 when Pope Benedict bowed down in prayer in the same mosque. Following much outrage from conservative Catholics and some Muslims, the Vatican was then compelled to publish a statement clarifying that Benedict had merely been in meditation…
Since President Erdogan had approved of the visit, there could be no large opposition. Still, it indicates that, a Christian service in a mosque (as was done in reverse at American National Cathedral) would never be tolerated.
It is clear this was far from a formal prayer. That any Muslim could object to this just shows how much they dislike anyone except other Muslims (and of the right ‘kind’ too).
Note that the people cheering were likely Christians — in other sources I read that they gathered outside: some of them refugees from Iraq and Syria.