ISTANBUL— Pope Francis further demonstrated his commitment to improving relations between Christians and Muslims on Saturday, as he prayed in Istanbul’s historic Blue Mosque and visited the Hagia Sophia—two powerful symbols of the Muslim and Christian faiths.
On the second of a three-day trip to Turkey, the pontiff removed his shoes before entering the Sultan Ahmet Mosque, known as the Blue Mosque for the blue tiles embellishing its walls. After a tour of the cavernous 17th-century mosque, he stood alongside Istanbul Grand Mufti Rahmi Yaran, facing in the direction of Mecca, and bowed his head in long prayer.
The move was an important public demonstration of Pope Francis’ commitment to Christian-Muslim dialogue. Some have raised questions as to whether such dialogue is fruitful given the persecution of Christians by Islamic extremists.
On Friday, the pope demanded that all religions enjoy the same rights, a veiled reference to the problems that Christians still suffer in Turkey, where about 99% of the population is Muslim. Christian communities complain that they struggle to gain permits to rebuild or refurbish buildings and say the government has been slow to follow through on promises to return properties confiscated decades ago.