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Holy See Downplays Turk’s Possible Absence

Prime Minister Might Be Away When Pope Visits

VATICAN CITY, NOV. 2, 2006 (Zenit.org).- Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan might be absent from the country during Benedict XVI’s visit, to attend a NATO summit in Latvia.

Amid media speculation about Erdogan’s absence, the Vatican press office published a statement today to downplay the fact.

In the note, the Holy See revealed that “it had been informed some time ago — while preparing for the trip — of the coincidence with the prime minister’s important commitment on the occasion of the NATO summit.”

The Vatican explained, moreover, that it has been informed that “the head of government had tried to be in Turkey to meet with the Holy Father, but could not guarantee it.”

The communiqué continues, stating that “in case of absence,” Erdogan communicated that “he would be represented by another important government authority, that is, by the vice premier.”

The Pope’s trip to Turkey is scheduled for Nov. 28-Dec. 1.

According to a draft of the program, Benedict XVI might meet, among others, President Ahmet Necdet Sezer; the Grand Mufti Ali Bardokoglu, the highest Muslim authority in the country; the ecumenical patriarch of Constantinople, Bartholomew I; and Armenian Apostolic Patriarch Mesrop II Mutafyan.

Elections approaching

In an interview with the Italian newspaper Il Corriere della Sera on Monday, the president of the Turkish bishops’ conference, Archbishop Ruggero Franceschini of Izmir, acknowledged that there might be political reasons for the prime minister’s absence.

“Elections are on the way and perhaps rightist extremists have prevailed, who are opposed to dialogue,” the archbishop said. “The prime minister might have thought that, his not meeting with the Pope, would remove a problem from the electoral campaign.”

The prelate referred to the present difficulties in Muslim-Christian dialogue in Turkey, and attributed them to three causes: the invasion of Cyprus by that country, thus bringing on itself the opposition of the Orthodox-Christian world and more generally of the entire West; “the Muslim awakening”; and the consequences of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

“But the Pope will come,” concluded Archbishop Franceschini. “We are happy he is coming, and as men of faith we believe that God can bring good out of evil.”

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