Pope Francis, the religious leader of the Catholic world, is expected to visit Turkey next year.
According to information gathered by Today's Zaman from sources close to the Vatican, preparations are under way for the İstanbul visit of the new pope, which is expected to take place in November in 2014.
İstanbul-based Greek Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew attended the installation Mass of Pope Francis in Vatican City in March, in a first-of-its-kind move since the 1054 break that led to the creation of the Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic branches of Christianity, along with Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdağ.
Following the Mass, Bartholomew revealed that the new pope had told him he wanted to pay a visit to Turkey. The pope's expected visit -- also considered a reciprocation for that of Bartholomew -- bears great importance for the Catholic and Orthodox churches, as the meeting in İstanbul between the pope and the Greek Orthodox ecumenical patriarch, one of the leading figures of the Orthodox world (also known as Eastern Christianity) is seen as a way of increasing dialogue between Eastern and Western Christianity.
The timing of the pope's visit is also telling. Nov. 30 is the anniversary of the foundation of the Church of Byzantium and of its official recognition by Rome in the year 330. The Orthodox, who celebrate this as the feast day of St. Andrew, with reference to the apostle who founded the Church of Byzantium in İstanbul, celebrate with a liturgy at the Greek Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarchate.
Pope Benedict XVI, the predecessor of the present pope, paid a visit to Turkey upon the invitation of then-Turkish President Ahmet Necdet Sezer in 2006 and had attended a liturgy on Nov. 30 celebrating the feast of St. Andrew together with Patriarch Bartholomew.
Although the date for the visit of the pope is not yet set, sources say there is a strong possibility that he will be in İstanbul on Nov. 30. It's not clear yet whether the pope, who is expected to stay at the Vatican's representation in İstanbul, will also visit Ankara.