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Pope Francis prepares to travel to Europe and Turkey

Pope Francis prepares to travel to Europe and Turkey

(Vatican Radio) Human rights and Christian values in Europe and ecumenism and interfaith dialogue in Turkey top the Pope’s busy agenda next week as he prepares for his 5th and 6th pastoral visits abroad.

At a press conference on Monday morning, Father Federico Lombardi SJ, Director of the Vatican Press Office illustrated the Pope’s schedule for the last week in November which will take him to Strasbourg, seat of the European Parliament and Council of Europe, and only two days afterwards  to Ankara and Istanbul in occasion of the festivity of Saint Andrew.

Listen to the report by Linda Bordoni

Pointing out that the visit to Strasbourg is a visit to Europe’s top governing bodies and not to France, Father Lombardi said it will be the briefest apostolic journey a Pope has ever made.

For a total of 3 hours and 50 minutes, Pope Francis will address the Plenary Assembly, first of the European Parliament (EP) and then of the Council of Europe (CoE) as well as meet with their heads  Martin Schultz and Thorbjorn Jagland and some of their closest collaborators.

Lombardi recalled that the last Pope to address the European Institutions in Strasbourg was Saint John Paul II in 1988. He pointed out that by addressing the Parliament’s 28 member nations and the 47 member states of the Council, Pope Francis is speaking to the heart of Europe and will invariably raise issues such as economic inequality, freedom of religion and a throwaway culture within a continent that is facing many challenges. He made it quite clear that it is only a “technical” touchdown on French soil, thus President Hollande will not be at the airport to meet him, whilst he will be meeting with key figures of the just started Italian Semester of the EU Council, Matteo Renzi and Jean-Claude Juncker. He explained Francis will arrive at the EP just in time to address the Session there and will be back on the plane for Rome before lunch!

Turkey also marks another record as it takes place only 2 days later. Father Lombardi said the main themes of this journey are ecumenical, of inter-faith dialogue and to encourage the small Turkish Catholic community in its faith.

Taking him to first to Ankara and then to Istanbul, Pope Francis will be received by State authorities and then by the president of Religious Affairs in the Diyanet.

On the following day, he will travel to Istanbul where he will visit significant landmarks such as the Blue Mosque, and the Cathedral of the Holy Spirit where he will celebrate Mass before participating in an ecumenical prayer and meeting in private with the Orthodox Patriarch, Bartholomew I.

Sunday 30 is the Feast day of St. Andrew, the Patron of the Eastern world and the Pope will preside over a divine liturgy in the patriarchal Church of St. George, impart an ecumenical blessing and sign a Joint Declaration with Bartholomew before departing. It can really be seen – Lombardi pointed out – as a continuation of his apostolic journey to the Holy Land last May, and it germinates in fertile soil that has already been tread upon by Popes Paul VIth, John Paul II, Benedict XVIth and well watered by John XXIIIrd who was Apostolic Nuncio to Turkey for 10 years before becoming Pope!

(from Vatican Radio)