As Pope Benedict prepares to travel to Turkey, the Prefect for the Congregation for Oriental Churches, Cardinal Ignace Moussa I Daoud, said the Turkish bishops hope that their country would be a “cradle of Christianity and will continue being a land of fraternal dialogue between religions and cultures.”

In an interview with Vatican Radio, the cardinal expressed his joy at being able to return to Turkey with Pope Benedict XVI after his last visit in May of 2004, on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of the visit by Pope John Paul II.

Cardinal Daoud recalled that Turkey “is the land of illustrious patriarchal sees and of great Councils; it has been the privileged place of the incarnation of the Christian faith.  There Christianity has fostered the growth of diverse cultures and sensibilities that have distinguished it, throughout the centuries, giving birth to a wide array of theologians and rites that make Turkey even today a pluralist phenomenon.”

Cardinal Daoud said the Catholic Church in Turkey has a “plural face” reflected in the bishops’ conference, which is made up of three Latin-rite bishops, two Armenian Catholic bishops, one Siro-Catholic patriarchal vicar and one Chaldean patriarchal vicar.  

The bishops speculate that there are around 30,000 Catholics in Turkey, the cardinal stated.  “It seems that the era of a progressively dwindling presence of Catholics has ended, and thus we hope that Turkey will be a cradle of Christianity and will continue to be a land of fraternal dialogue between religions and cultures,” he said.

During his visit to Turkey, Benedict XVI will preside at a Mass on December 1 at the Cathedral of the Holy Spirit. It will be his only event for the local Catholic community.