Friday, December 29, 2006

It is very hard to not have mixed feelings about the execution of Saddam Hussein. I do not believe in the death penalty and completely agree with Church teachings on the sanctity of life. But the human part of me, the part of me that knows the cruelties he was guilty of and is horrified by them can't help but feel quietly satisfied. However, it's not a happy feeling by any stretch of the imagination. I mourn the loss of all the lives that went before him; I mourn the loss of lives since his downfall. But most of all, I mourn the apparent loss of his immortal soul.

Top Vatican official condemns Saddam's death penalty

ROME (AP) — A top Vatican official condemned the death sentence against Saddam Hussein in a newspaper interview published Thursday, saying capital punishment goes against the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church.

Cardinal Renato Martino, Pope Benedict XVI's top prelate for justice issues and a former Vatican envoy to the U.N., said executing the ousted Iraqi leader would punish "a crime with another crime," and he expressed hope that the sentence would not be carried out.

In the interview with Rome daily La Repubblica, Martino reiterated the Vatican's staunch opposition to the death penalty, saying that life must be safeguarded from its beginning to its natural end.

"The death penalty is not a natural death. And no one can give death, not even the State," he said.

On Tuesday, Iraq's highest court rejected Saddam's appeal against a conviction and death sentence for the killing of 148 people in Dujail, in northern Iraq, in 1982. The court said the former president should be hanged within 30 days.

Martino's comments follow remarks he made after Saddam's initial sentencing, when the prelate denounced the planned execution as "eye for eye" logic.

In Thursday's interview, Martino also recalled how the late Pope John Paul II had opposed the war in Iraq.

"John Paul II did his duty," the cardinal told La Repubblica. "He said the war in Iraq would have been an adventure without return — and we are seeing it."

Martino called for an international conference to take on all the conflicts in the region, including in Iraq, Lebanon and the Holy Land.

On Thursday, Italian Premier Romano Prodi also reiterated previous condemnations of Saddam's sentence, both on moral and practical grounds. Italy is a firm opponent of capital punishment.

"I don't believe that Saddam's execution would remotely help bring peace to the country," he said. Aside from the moral condemnation, he added, "even politically I think it would carry ... more negative consequences than positive ones."

Copyright 2006 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Holy Father's Christmas Day message stressing the importance of spirituality in our modern era and reminding us that science has left much unsolved.

FROM: Tracy Wilkinson, Los Angeles TimesTuesday, December 26, 2006

(12-26) 04:00 PST Rome -- In a traditional and often-grim Christmas Day message, Pope Benedict XVI said a world that has achieved unimaginable technological progress still needs God in its unending confrontation with hunger, hatred and war.

Despite the Internet, globalized economies and the ability to send spacecraft to the moon and Mars, "how can we not hear, from the very depths of this humanity ... the heartrending cry for help?" the pope asked.

Humankind's technological advance has not solved its most vexing problems, the leader of the Roman Catholic Church added.

"In this postmodern age, perhaps he (man) needs a savior all the more," the pontiff said, "since the society in which he lives has become more complex, and the threats to his personal and moral integrity have become more insidious."

Draped in golden vestments, Benedict marked his second Christmas as pope, delivering the annual message "Urbi et Orbi" -- Latin for "to the city and the world" -- from the central balcony of the majestic St. Peter's Basilica. Tens of thousands of pilgrims and tourists, in chilly sunshine, filled the square below to hear the noontime address, which was broadcast to 40 nations.

St. Peter's Square is an especially popular attraction at Christmas. It is decorated this year by a 109-foot fir tree from southern Italy's Sila National Park, said to be the tallest Christmas tree ever to grace the Vatican, and a larger-than-life Nativity scene.

The papal Christmas Day message is often used to give a sobering account of the state of world affairs, the conflicts and disease plaguing humanity and the way that the faith born with Jesus can provide solace.

"Who can defend him (man), if not the one who loves him to the point of sacrificing on the cross his only-begotten son as the savior of the world?" Benedict said.

He cited "with deep apprehension" the Middle East, "marked by so many grave crises and conflicts," and urged the path be opened "to a just and lasting peace, with respect for the inalienable rights of the peoples living there."

"I place in the hands of the divine child of Bethlehem the indications of a resumption of dialogue between the Israelis and Palestinians, which we have witnessed in recent days, and the hope of further encouraging developments," the pope added, alluding to Saturday's rare meeting between Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

Benedict also called for the survival of a "democratic Lebanon, open to others and in dialogue with different cultures and religions," and appealed "to all those who hold in their hands the fate of Iraq" that they work to find an end to "brutal violence."

He also prayed for the end to fratricidal fighting in Darfur and elsewhere in Africa and for the continent's "open wounds" to heal.

"Is a savior still needed by a humanity which has reached the moon and Mars and is prepared to conquer the universe; for a humanity which knows no limits in its pursuit of nature's secrets and which has succeeded even in deciphering the marvelous codes of the human genome?" the pope said.

"This humanity of the 21st century appears as a sure and self-sufficient master of its own destiny, the avid proponent of uncontested triumphs," he continued. "So it would seem, yet this is not the case. People continue to die of hunger and thirst, disease and poverty, in this age of plenty and of unbridled consumerism."

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Mankind Cannot Live Without God.
Dec. 25, 2006 - Yahoo, UK-Ireland

Pope Benedict has used his Christmas address to deliver the stern message that mankind cannot live without God.

He said that in an age of "unbridled consumerism" it was shameful many remained deaf to the "heart-rending cry" of those dying of hunger, thirst, disease, poverty, war and terrorism.

In his address broadcast live to an audience of millions in 40 countries he posed the question: "Does a 'Saviour' still have any value and meaning for the men and women of the third millennium?"

"Is a 'Saviour' still needed by a humanity which has reached the moon and Mars and is prepared to conquer the universe?"

He appealed for peace and justice in the Middle East, an end to the brutal violence in Iraq and to the fratricidal conflict in Darfur and other parts of Africa, and expressed his hope for "a democratic Lebanon".

In a separate, written message to the small Christian communities of the Middle East, the Pope said he hoped to visit the Holy Land as soon as the situation allowed.

He then wished the world a Happy Christmas in 62 languages - including Arabic, Hebrew, Mongolian and Latin - but his speech highlighted his preoccupation with humanity's fate.

At midnight, the 79-year-old Benedict had ushered in Christmas with midnight mass at the Vatican saying the image of the baby Jesus in a manger should remind everyone of the plight of poor, abused and neglected children the world over.

He said: "The child of Bethlehem directs our gaze towards all children, particularly those who suffer and are abused in the world, the born and the unborn."

"Towards children who are placed as soldiers in a violent world; towards children who have to beg; towards children who suffer deprivation and hunger; towards children who are unloved.!

Sunday, December 24, 2006

December 23, 2006
World Briefing Europe (from New York Times)
Vatican City: Pope Speaks Against Civil Unions
Pope Benedict XVI waded into Italian politics, saying he “cannot remain silent” over the government’s pledge to legally recognize unmarried couples. In a long year-end speech to the Vatican bureaucracy, the pope said that such legal recognition not only diminished the institution of marriage, but also put relations between men and women on the same level as homosexual couples. He also dismissed recent criticism from some politicians that the church should not speak out on the issue, insisting, “If one says the church should not interfere in these matters, then we can only respond: should mankind not interest us?”

Pope warns against secularization of Christmas holiday
By Daniela PetroffAssociated Press (

VATICAN CITY — Pope Benedict XVI urged Christians this week to defend the spirit of Christmas against secular trends during his last general audience before the holiday.
He wished the several thousand pilgrims and tourists gathered in a Vatican auditorium decorated with Christmas trees a "Happy Christmas" in seven languages and told them that "false prophets continue to offer cheap salvation which ends up in deep delusions."
"It is the duty of Christians to spread through a witness of life the truth of Christmas, which Christ brings to every man and woman of good will."

Throughout the audience, choral groups sang Christmas carols, including "Silent Night," a favorite in the pope's native Germany. Shepherds from Italy's Abruzzi mountains, in their traditional fur-trimmed costumes, played Italian carols on their bagpipes.

During his speech, Benedict also posed the question of the relevance of religion in modern society, one of his leading themes.

"Today, many consider God irrelevant. Even believers sometimes seek tempting but illusory shortcuts to happiness. And yet perhaps even because of this confusion humanity seeks a savior, and awaits the coming of Christ," the pope said.

Although he warned against being distracted by what he called the "trappings of Christmas," Benedict offered thanks for the 110-foot Christmas tree set up in St. Peter's Square, and the one in his private apartment in the Vatican, both gifts from the mountains of Calabria in southern Italy.

He also encouraged the custom of setting up nativity scenes in the home.

"It is my hope that such an important element (of Christmas) not only part of our spirituality, but also of our culture and art continue to be a simple and eloquent way of remembering Christ."

The home nativity scene is the traditional focal point of the Italian Christmas, with families working for days on elaborate settings which, along with the main figures, often include village scenes, artistic lighting and even fountains with running water.

However, the tradition is waning, with some families preferring the Christmas tree, a custom inherited from northern Europe and North America.

Workers in St. Peter's Square are still busy setting up the life-sized nativity scene with 26 figures set under a caravan tent, to be unveiled tomorrow, on Christmas Eve, along with the lighting of the Christmas tree.

Friday, December 15, 2006

At last a media piece letting us hear from Muslims who are engaging in reason. I knew they were out there but media reports are so uniformly negative that it is easy to forget that there are brave writers and intellectuals who represent a huge group of thoughtful Muslim believers. Of course I had to find it in the BBC News.

Muslims debate Pope's speech reaction
By Magdi Abdelhadi Arab Affairs Analyst, BBC News

Despite the predominantly emotional and angry response to the Pope's controversial remarks about Islam, some Muslim writers and intellectuals have been extremely critical of the way Muslims have responded so far.

The angry reactions to the Pope's original remarks included the killing of an Italian nun in Somalia and attacks on Christian churches in Palestinian territories.

But several Muslim writers argued that such violent reactions appeared to confirm the very things that Muslims have been seeking to refute.

Some concluded that it would have been better to engage in a rational debate with the Pope.
The European Muslim scholar, Tarik Ramadan, blamed Muslim leaders and scholars for such violent responses.

'Let off steam'
Leaders who deny their people freedom of expression, he wrote, find it convenient to allow their people to let off some steam as long as it is about Danish cartoons or words uttered by the Pope.
Mr Ramadan asks rhetorically whether it was wise of Muslims to feel offended by the Pope's quotation from a 14th Century Christian emperor while they continue to ignore questions they have faced over the past five years about the meaning of the term "jihad" and the legitimate use of force.

Khaled Hroub, a Jordanian-born academic, wrote that the aggressive and intolerant reactions failed to live up to the ideals Muslims believe in.

The Muslim reaction to the Pope's apology has also come in for a lot of criticism.

Mr Hroub wondered whether Muslim clerics can ever be asked to apologise for believing that Islam is the one and only true religion.

One columnist, Abdelwahab Al Affendi, ridiculed those who demanded a retraction of the Pope's original remarks.

Mr Al Effendi wrote saying that nothing short of the Pope's converting to Islam will ever assuage the anger of those people!

Story from BBC NEWS: 2006/09/25 15:18:54 GMT© BBC MMVI

Saturday, December 09, 2006

My Note - I fully support the public display of religious symbols. I also support an attitude of inclusion. Instead of society tearing down its symbols, so as not to offend the sensibilities of some one or some group, I say, INCLUDE all religious symbols. I'm sure we could all learn something from each other if we were not being so quick to deny representations of the expressions of our faiths.

Pope advocates religious symbols in public places
Sat Dec 9, 5:35 PM ET
From Yahoo News

Religious symbols should be allowed in public places, Pope Benedict XVI told a group of Italian Catholic legal experts.

"Hostility to all forms of recognition of the political and cultural importance of religion and in particular the presence of any religious symbols in public institutions ... is not a sign of healthy secularism, but the degeneration of secularism," the pope said.

"The state cannot consider religion to be simply an individual feeling that can be confined to the private sphere," said the head of the world's 1.1 billion Catholics.

Religion "should be recognized as a common public presence," and its symbols should be allowed in offices, schools, courtrooms, hospitals, prisons and so on, the 79-year-old pontiff added.
"An areligious vision of life, thought and ethics" has led to an erroneous conception of secularism, "a term that seems to have become the essential emblem ... of modern democracy," he lamented.

The question of crucifixes and the secular nature of the Italian state has inflamed passions in the country in recent years, with parents objecting to the display of religious symbols at state schools.

All religions are considered equal under the constitution, but two decrees from the 1920s, confirmed by legislation in 1984, allow Catholic symbols in state schools.

Benedict said Saturday: "It is out of the question for the Church to indicate what political or social order is preferable, but the people should freely choose the best and most appropriate ways to organize public life."

He added: "Any direct intervention by the Church in this area would be illegitimate interference."

But, he said, the Church may "affirm and defend great values that give meaning to a person's life and safeguard its dignity."

The conservative pope, elected in April 2005, made a similar call for the display of crucifixes in public buildings last year, saying it was important that "God be visible ... and present in public life."
Benedict XVI Offers an Answer to Church's Crisis
Posted on December 08, 2006
From Catholic University - an online weekend newspaper

The answer to the crisis the Church is facing, especially in the West, consists in proclaiming and rediscovering the grandeur of God's love, experienced in prayer, says Benedict XVI. The Pope expressed this when analyzing in several meetings with the bishops of Switzerland, from Nov. 7-9, today's challenges to evangelization. The bishops were concluding their five-yearly visit to Rome, which had been put on hold in 2005 because of Pope John Paul II's failing health.

Benedict XVI's two interventions, as well as his homily to the Swiss bishops, are revealing, as he delivered them in German, his mother tongue. They were subsequently translated by the Holy See and will appear later in ZENIT.

The Pontiff began his last talk by explaining that he had not had the time to prepare his addresses as he had wished. "I would like to ask you to excuse me for having come without a prepared text on the very first day," the Holy Father said. "I had of course given it some thought, but I did not have the time to write. And so, once again now, I am presenting myself with this impoverishment, but it might be right also for a Pope to be poor in all senses at this time in the Church's history. "In any case, I am unable to offer you a grand discourse now as would have been fitting after a meeting with these results."

Addressing the present crisis in the Church, Benedict XVI recalled how, "when I used go to Germany in the 1980s and '90s, … I was asked to give interviews and I always knew the questions in advance. They concerned the ordination of women, contraception, abortion and other such constantly recurring problems. "If we let ourselves be drawn into these discussions, the Church is then identified with certain commandments or prohibitions; we give the impression that we are moralists with a few somewhat antiquated convictions, and not even a hint of the true greatness of the faith appears."

The Pope continued: "I therefore consider it essential always to highlight the greatness of our faith -- a commitment from which we must not allow such situations to divert us." Understood from this perspective are the important documents of this pontificate, particularly the encyclical "Deus Caritas Est" and the forthcoming book on Jesus to be published this spring.

"God is Logos and God is Love - to the point that he completely humbled himself, assuming a human body and finally, giving himself into our hands as bread," the Holy Father explained. "We know that God is not a philosophical hypothesis, he is not something that perhaps exists, but we know him and he knows us. And we can know him better and better if we keep up a dialogue with him.

"This is why it is a fundamental task of pastoral care to teach people how to pray and how to learn to do so personally, better and better." "Many seek meditation elsewhere because they think that they will not be able to find a spiritual dimension in Christianity," Benedict XVI observed.

"We must show them once again not only that this spiritual dimension exists but that it is the source of all things. "To this end, we must increase the number of these schools of prayer, for praying together, where it is possible to learn personal prayer in all its dimensions: as silent listening to God, as a listening that penetrates his Word, penetrates his silence, sounds the depths of his action in history and in one's own person; and to understand his language in one's life and then to learn to respond in prayer with the great prayers of the Psalms of the Old Testament and prayers of the New.

"This intimate being with God, hence, the experience of God's presence, is what makes us, so to speak, experience ever anew the greatness of Christianity, and then also helps us to find our way through all the trivialities among which, of course, it must also be lived and -- day after day, in suffering and loving, in joy and sorrow -- put into practice."

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

A kinder, gentler Benedict XVI emerges in Turkey
Janis Mackey Frayer, CTV Middle East Bureau Chief Updated: Tue. Dec. 5 2006 9:57 AM ET

The sun had long faded and gave way to a chilling wind that left me questioning the logic of my situation: Standing with a gaggle of reporters and photographers on a stretch of boulevard choked by armed security. Shivering from a woeful misjudgment of Istanbul's cold. Toiling for hours for the leader of the world's 1.1 billion Catholics -- a journalist's vigil that had so far yielded only a blurred glimpse of his satin-capped head.

And then, something historic happened.

Pope Benedict XVI speaks with Muslim clerics as security officers and other prelates look on during a visit in the Blue Mosque in Istanbul, Turkey on Nov. 30, 2006. (AP / Patrick Hertzog)

Pope Benedict XVI's motorcade arrived in front of us at the entrance of the famed Blue Mosque where the pontiff was greeted by Mustafa Cagrici, Istanbul's Grand Mufti. The two men -- resplendent in robes -- chatted warmly and posed for pictures. They lingered, like nervous freshmen on the first day of school, before climbing the stairs.

Pope Benedict XVI, without shoes, is seen during a visit in the Blue Mosque in Istanbul, Turkey on Nov. 30, 2006. (AP / Patrick Hertzog)

At the door, Pope Benedict took off his shoes and became only the second Pope in the history of the papacy to enter a mosque.
A short tour followed and then, in a move that was unexpected but done with such ease, the two men stood quietly in what appeared to be prayer. Both facing Mecca. Two men of different faiths sharing the sanctity of one poignant moment.

It would become the lasting and powerful symbol of the Pope's journey to Turkey.

People had been looking for something to heal the sting inflicted only three months earlier when Pope Benedict made comments that were construed as insulting.

In a speech in Germany, he had quoted a Byzantine scholar who characterized Islam as "irrational" and "violent." Understandably, Muslims around the world were outraged.
That anger explained the extraordinary security in Turkey -- measures that far exceeded what officials employed for the visit of George W. Bush in 2004. Protests were banned during the Pope's visit but the last legal one, two days before his arrival, drew more than 20,000 people to the streets telling Benedict to stay home.

In the weeks that followed the Pope's comments the Vatican tried gesture after gesture to smooth things over. Even Turkey's prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, insisted he was too busy to meet the Pope so as to distance himself from the inevitable criticism of his party's Islamic roots.

In the weeks that followed the Pope's comments the Vatican tried gesture after gesture to smooth things over. Even Turkey's prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, insisted he was too busy to meet the Pope so as to distance himself from the inevitable criticism of his party's Islamic roots.

Erdogan adjusted his schedule at the last minute to greet the pontiff on the tarmac and that handshake went a long way in establishing a tone of hospitality. The Pope reciprocated by apparently telling Erdogan that he tacitly supported Turkey's bid to join the European Union, something he opposed when he was a cardinal for fear of compromising Europe's "Christian roots."

Reconciliation with Muslims it seemed was underway, punctuated by the Pope's visit to the tomb of modern Turkey's founder, his courteous walk through the Hagia Sophia where it is forbidden to pray and that defining moment facing Mecca as his lips quietly uttered words only he will know. Afterwards, the Mufti said it was, "even more meaningful than an apology."
Yet the Turkey visit was planned as a pastoral one to forge Christian unity with the Orthodox Church. For some 1,000 years there has existed a "rift." The Pope and Patriarch Bartholomew held joint services and blessings to send a message of strength and brotherhood to their faithful. Here, too, it seems the Pope achieved diplomatic success. He also made some sensitive demands -- namely, greater rights for Christian minorities in Muslim countries.

Veteran Vatican-watchers believe the visit was significant in establishing the Pope as not only an esteemed scholar and theologian but a "feeling" church leader.

"This is a kinder, gentler Benedict XVI," said author John Allen.

Pope Benedict later described his Turkey trip as an "unforgettable" experience. Some Muslims say he should do more and called the adventure "futile." Still, it seems the Pope convinced the majority of his Muslim hosts that he wants warmer relations... suggesting I wasn't the only one trying to overcome the chill in the Turkish air.

© Copyright 2006 CTV Inc.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

European Press: Pope No Longer Hated Figure in Turkey
Zaman Daily News

Pope Benedict XVI’s historic visit to Turkey attracted worldwide attention and hundreds of international journalists.

According to the European press, the pope went to Turkey as a vilified figure but emerged a symbol of tolerance.

The Times of London recalled reactions to the pope’s remarks on Islam a few months ago in Germany but drew attention to the pope’s admirable statements in Istanbul before departing for Rome.

The Times added that the pope surprised many with his supportive remarks on Turkey’s EU membership and speaking in Turkish during prayers in Ephesus.

The article also quoted Vatican sources saying that Turkish reaction to the pope was not reflected in the Arab world and they were still waiting for a direct apology from the pontiff.
The Guardian wrote that the pope had convinced most Turkish people of his wishes to foster warmer relations with the Muslim world.

The German press called the pope’s visit a very successful one.

“The pope enchanted Turks,” wrote Die Welt.

I was very happy to see this and other articles like it. Of course, in our imperfect world, there was the expected voice of dissent. One came out of Jordan with the complaint that the Pope still had not apologized appropriately nor had he done enough. Done enough what? My thought to the speaker is "how about YOU doing something to bring about unity and peace instead of continuing the nonproductive critique. There is a lot of work to do and a good place to start would be to disavow terrorism and the suicide bombers that kill so many innocent people. Also, the same voice out of Jordan suggested that the trip would have been more effective had the Pope gone to Iran or Saudi Arabia. Well, since the trip had been planned since before the Sept. 12th speech, the where really wasn't a factor and even suggesting it proves the speaker's unwillingness to listen with an open mind and heart.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Turkey takes stock of visit from Pope Benedict XVI
By Matthew Schofield - McCLATCHY NEWSPAPERS

ISTANBUL, Turkey - As Pope Benedict XVI on Friday left the streets of Istanbul, a city that had been locked down since his arrival, some Turks said they had been won over by his four-day visit to this secular nation of Muslims.

Others, though, said they remained dubious about a man who had been roundly criticized for comments earlier this fall about Islam.

Many Muslims were furious when the pope in September quoted a former resident of this city, Byzantine Emperor Manuel II Paleologus, saying, "Show me just what Muhammad brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached."

Everyone agreed that there was no lack of effort, or symbolism, in his visit. He became only the second pope (after John Paul II) to enter a mosque, and he bowed his head as the imam at the Blue Mosque, or Sultan Ahmet Mosque, offered a prayer. He also refrained from visibly praying in Hagia Sophia, something that was seen as showing respect for the secular Turkish state. Hagia Sophia, a former Byzantine church, became a mosque after 1453 and is now a museum.

The mufti of Istanbul, Mustafa Cagrici, who'd been highly critical of Benedict XVI after the speech in September and who had signed a protest letter by Islamic academics, said that he was impressed by the visit.

"The joint prayer, in the mosque, was more important than his previous words," he said.
In fact, the Sabah newpaper covered its front page with a photo of the two of them together, and said, "Forgiven in Sultan Ahmet."

There were, however, complaints.

On the streets of Istanbul, Mehmet Tekindag, 46, a Turkish nationalist, said he was angry about the trip, which he said was no more than an excuse to visit Patriarch Bartholomew of the eastern Orthodox church. (MY NOTE: it would seem that Mr. Tekindag would find reason to be angry no matter what. He seems to also fail to understand the the original purpose of the trip WAS to visit the Patriarch. It also stands to reason that if he is in Turkey, he would meet with heads of state since the Pope, himself, is a head of state.)

A young woman, Zeynep Koru, noted that security was so tight for the visit that getting around was very difficult. Traffic snarls lasted for hours. "He is calling for peace, ethics," she said. "Then he should respect to people and visit the places by helicopter." (MY NOTE: What silly nonsense.)

Friday, December 01, 2006

Pope Benedict concludes historic visit to Turkey amid praise and challenges
Fri Dec 1, 5:12 PM

By Brian Murphy

ISTANBUL, Turkey (AP) - Pope Benedict was greeted in Turkey with a lecture on how the Christian West scorns Islam. He left Friday with Istanbul's chief Islamic cleric speaking lyrically of better days ahead between the faiths.

Few predicted how boldly, and with such apparent success, the pontiff would seek to remake his battered image in the Muslim world during four days of speeches, sermons and symbolic gestures that included an instantly famous moment of silent prayer in a mosque while facing Mecca.

"Istanbul is a bridge that unites sides," the Pope said before ending his first papal trip to the Muslim world. "I hope that this dialogue continues."

Turkey's influential Milliyet newspaper bid the Pope farewell with an optimistic headline: "The Istanbul Peace."

But it will require attention to sustain.

The Pope left without laying out clear ideas on how to follow through with his promises for greater understanding and dialogue with Muslims. He also put some sensitive demands on the table: wider protections and rights for Christian minorities in the Muslim world, including Turkey's tiny communities whose roots go back to the apostles.

Originally, the trip was envisioned as a pilgrimage to reinforce Christian bonds and reach out to Turkey's remaining Christians, including Catholics estimated to number between 20,000 and 30,000. But after the Pope gave a speech in September that angered many Muslims, it became a test of the Vatican's ability to mend ties with the Islamic world.

Muslims erupted in protest in response to the speech, in which Benedict quoted a Byzantine emperor who characterized some of the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad as "evil and inhuman," particularly "his command to spread by the sword the faith."

The Pope later offered his regrets that his speech caused offence and stressed that the quotes did not reflect his personal opinion.

In Turkey, he carefully avoided anything that could be perceived as a slight against Islam. He said all religious leaders must "utterly refuse" to support violence. Even when a statement from "al-Qaida in Iraq" denounced the trip, the Vatican responded with a general rebuke of "violence in the name of God."

The Pope's dramatic moment of silent prayer in Istanbul's famed Blue Mosque on Thursday capped a wide-ranging effort to win back Muslim sentiments, which included expressing support for Turkey's steps to become the first Muslim country in the European Union.

The gestures were well-received among Turkish religious leaders and in the media.

Mustafa Cagrici, the head mufti in Istanbul, waxed poetic about "a spring ahead for this world" after praying alongside Benedict at the Blue Mosque. He said the Pope "stood in prayer just like Muslims."

It marked only the second papal visit in history to a Muslim place of worship. John Paul II made a brief stop in a mosque in Syria in 2001.

Scenes from the Pope's minute of prayer - eyes closed, hands clasped - appeared on the front page of nearly every newspaper in Turkey. "History written in Istanbul," wrote the Vatan newspaper.

The Pope's visit also made the front pages of several Arab newspapers. The pan-Arab Asharq al-Awsat ran a front-page picture of the pope praying in the Blue Mosque, with the headline, "The Pope turns toward Mecca in prayer."

"He came here with humility, and for the pontiff that takes an act of courage," said the Rev. Alexander Karloutsos, a Greek Orthodox clergyman who set up meetings between the Pope and the spiritual leader of the world's Orthodox Christians, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew.

A member of the papal entourage put the visit in even more epic terms. Roger Cardinal Etchagaray compared the mosque visit to John Paul II's dramatic stop in 2000 at Israel's Western Wall, where he left a copy of his declaration asking God's forgiveness for sins against the Jews.

"Benedict did for the Muslims what John Paul did for the Jews," the cardinal told reporters.

Some in the Arab world, however, remained skeptical about whether the Pope's visit would completely repair the damage caused by his speech in September.

"It relieves to some extent what he said before, but we're hoping to see more from him. For example, will he continue this tone when he returns to the Vatican?" said Fahmi Huweidi, an Egyptian commentator on Islamic affairs who has written columns in the Arab newspaper Al-Hayat sharply criticizing the Pope's speech.

There were tense moments early on in the trip. Ali Bardakoglu, the top Muslim cleric in Turkey, sat across from Benedict on Tuesday and complained that claims about Islam's violent nature were feeding "a growing Islamophobia" in the West.

Days later, however, Bardakoglu called the visit "a very positive step."

Turkish authorities had mobilized their biggest security force in decades in preparation for the visit. Istanbul's police chief, Celalettin Cerrah, said more than 9,500 officers were on duty during the week. Helicopters buzzed over rooftops and minarets, while sharpshooters watched over every stretch of the papal route.

However, only several limited demonstrations were held during Benedict's visit.

Before he left Friday, Benedict sought to reaffirm his message of reconciliation during a mass for members of Turkey's Roman Catholic community.

"You know well that the church wishes to impose nothing on anyone, and that she merely asks to live in freedom," he said. In the courtyard of the 160-year-old Holy Spirit Cathedral, the Pope then released several white doves into the sky.

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