Skip to main content

Pope's visit to Turkey is a chance to bridge ancient divide

Pope Francis’ visit to Turkey on Nov. 28-30 is not really about Turkey, instead it offers new opportunities to mend the schism with the Orthodox Church.
The Fener Greek highschool with the Mosque of Yavuz Selim in the background overlooks the Fener district in Golden Horn where the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate complex is located in Istanbul November 21, 2006. Pope Benedict will pay an official visit to Muslim but secular Turkey on November 28 to December 1 and will hold talks with Patriarch Bartholomew, spiritual head of the world's Orthodox Christians, at the Patriarch's residence in Istanbul. REUTERS/Fatih Saribas (TURKEY) - RTR1JKES
Read in 

As Ankara prepares to receive Pope Francis on Nov. 28-30, Turkish media have noted with raised eyebrows that Turkish affairs do not appear to be uppermost on the pope’s mind. “It was conspicuous that the pope chose to speak of the ‘Ecumenical Patriarchate’ and ‘Constantinople’ rather than of Turkey,” when referring to the destination of his upcoming visit, the daily Milliyet pointed out huffily. It is a Turkish delusion of grandeur to believe that the spiritual leader of over a billion Catholics around the world should see, one and a half years into his papacy and before visiting most of those countries that have predominantly Catholic populations, a pressing need for talks in Ankara. His visit to the Turkish capital is little more than an obligatory courtesy call on the host country of his real destination, the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople.

The patriarchate has long been at the heart of a deep misunderstanding between Turkey and the West. While the Fener, as the patriarchate is locally known for its location on the Golden Horn, appears to many Turks as little more than a local bishopric for the handful of remaining Greeks in Istanbul, it retains enormous significance for 300 million Orthodox Christians around the world. In addition, its importance to Christianity has been growing again over the past 50 years, as successive patriarchs and popes since 1964 have been seeking a path to reunification of the world’s two largest churches, which split apart nearly a thousand years ago. Those efforts have recently intensified under the auspices of the present Patriarch Bartholomew and his counterparts in the Vatican, John Paul II, Benedict and now Francis.

Access the Middle East news and analysis you can trust

Join our community of Middle East readers to experience all of Al-Monitor, including 24/7 news, analyses, memos, reports and newsletters.


Only $100 per year.