Pope Benedict visits Hagia Sofia and becomes second Pope to enter a mosque

.- On the third day of his pastoral visit to Turkey, Pope Benedict XVI visited the historic Cathedral-turned-museum Hagia Sofia, one of the most important symbols of the country, as well as the Blue Mosque, the central Mosque of Istanbul.  The Pope became only the second Pope to ever enter a Muslim house of prayer.

The Holy Father spent thirty minutes visiting Hagia Sofia, a basilica which served as the Cathedral Church of Constantinople until its conversion to a mosque in 1453.  In 1935 the secular Turkish republic converted it to a national museum.

The historic building which, now offers examples of Christian and Islamic art was visited by both Pope Paul VI and John Paul II on their visits to the country.

The Holy Father listened with interest as he was led through the museum by its director.

Afterwards, the Pontiff also visited the Sultan Ahmed Mosque.  The mosque, more commonly known as the Blue Mosque due to the color which once dominated its interior, was built opposite Hagia Sofia.

Pope John Paul II is the only other Pontiff to have entered a mosque, when he did so in Damascus in 2001.

Pope Benedict respected Muslim custom by removing his shoes prior to entering the house of prayer and was guided through the historic mosque by the Grand Mufti, who at one point asked Benedict to join in a moment of meditation.   The Holy Father remained silent for a moment with his hands folded one over the other.  Benedict reportedly told the Grand Mufti, “this visit will help us together to find the ways, the paths to peace for the good of mankind.”

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