Vatican confirms pope to visit Turkey in November
VATICAN CITY (AP) — Pope Francis will visit Turkey at the end of November, traveling to a country on the front lines of the Islamic militant surge that has forced tens of thousands of Christians to flee their homes.
The trip, confirmed Friday by the Vatican, had been rumored for weeks but became official after the Holy See received an invitation from the Turkish president Friday morning. Vatican spokesman the Rev. Federico Lombardi said the dates and itinerary haven’t been finalized.
Francis is expected to mark an important Orthodox feast day Nov. 30 with Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I, the spiritual leader of the world’s Orthodox Christians. Perhaps more importantly, the trip will give Francis the chance to visit a Muslim nation — and speak to the Muslim world — at a time when Christians are being targeted by the Islamic State group in Iraq.
A common plea for peace by Francis and Bartholomew would show a united Christian front against the militant onslaught.
Francis has said military force was legitimate to stop the militants, but has said it was for the international community to decide how to go about it.
Francis had wanted to visit Kurdistan to show solidarity with the Christians forced to flee their homes. In the end, it wasn’t possible and Francis instead sent a personal envoy.
Confirmation of the trip came as the United States sought to press Turkey to better seal its borders to prevent fighters and funding from flowing to the Islamic State militants.