.- Despite continuing threats from Islamic extremist groups and warnings from Muslim clerics and politicians in Turkey, preparations for Pope Benedict XVI’s first Papal trip to Turkey are continuing, Vatican officials said this week.
Vatican officials issued the confirmation after Turkey’s leading daily newspaper, Hurriyet, wrote that the Vatican was considering canceling the trip after a purported threat from al-Qaida aimed against the Pope and Muslims who meet with him.
According to The Associated Press, Msgr. Georges Marovitch, a Vatican embassy official, said he was not aware of the threat and that preparations were continuing as usual. The Pope is expected to arrive in Turkey Nov. 28 and depart Dec. 1.
His primary focus in planning the trip is a meeting with the Istanbul-based leader of the world's Orthodox Christians, Bartholomew I. The pope's planned visit coincides with the Christian feast day of St. Andrew on Nov. 30.
Teams of top Vatican officials reportedly went to Turkey recently to check on logistics.
The Pope's tentative schedule includes a meeting with the Turkish president in Ankara on Nov. 28, a visit to Ephesus, the site of an early Christian community, the following day, and a meeting with Bartholomew in Istanbul on Nov. 30. Benedict would leave Dec. 1 after mass with Istanbul’s Catholic community.
In a video last week, Osama bin Laden's deputy, Ayman al-Zawahri, reportedly compared Benedict with Pope Urban II, who in 1095 ordered the First Crusade to establish Christian control in the Holy Land.
On Wednesday, Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan repeated his criticism of the Pontiff over a portion of a speech he made last month in Germany. The Pope quoted words of a medieval emperor which were deemed offensive by many Muslims.
"The Pope is both a political and religious figure. But this person spoke in a way that is unfitting even for us politicians," Erdogan told an economic conference in Istanbul yesterday, according to Reuters.
Following a Turkish plane hijacking yesterday, which was thought initially to be in protest to the Pope’s trip, Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi reaffirmed, "There is no reason to cancel the trip."