Pope Francis prays in Istanbul's Blue Mosque

Pope prays for stronger ties between Vatican and Islam during second leg of his three-day visit to Turkey.

    Pope Francis has taken part in a Muslim prayer alongside the Grand Mufti of Istanbul on the second leg of his three-day visit to Turkey.

    Francis stood on Saturday morning with his head bowed and hands clasped in front of him for two minutes of silent prayer inside the 17th-century Sultan Ahmet mosque, aiming to show respect for Islam and encourage stronger ties between the two faiths.

    "May God accept it," Rahmi Yaran, the Grand Mufti of Istanbul told the pope at the end of the prayer.

    Earlier, Yaran gave Francis a tour of the mosque which is famed for its elaborate blue tiles and cascading domes and is better known as the Blue Mosque.

    Francis then visited the nearby Haghia Sofia, which was the main Byzantine church in Constantinople - present-day Istanbul - before being turned into a mosque following the Muslim conquest of the city in 1453. The Haghia Sophia
    is now a museum, although some Islamic groups want it to be converted back into a mosque.

    A few dozen well-wishers outside Haghia Sophia waved the Turkish flag and the flag of the Holy See.

    Meeting Bartholomew

    Later on Saturday, Francis will meet with the head of the Orthodox Church, Bartholomew - the real reason for his visit to Turkey.

    The two major branches of Christianity represented by Bartholomew and Francis split in 1054 over differences on the power of the papacy. The two spiritual heads will participate in an ecumenical liturgy and sign a joint declaration in the ongoing attempt to reunite the churches.

    Meeting with Turkish leaders in the capital Ankara on Friday, Francis had urged Muslim leaders to condemn the "barbaric violence" being committed in Islam's name against religious minorities in Iraq and Syria.

    He reaffirmed that military force was justified to halt the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant group's advance, and called for greater dialogue among Christians, Muslims and people of all faiths to end fundamentalism.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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