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ISTANBUL — Pope Francis stood Saturday for two minutes of silent prayer facing east in one of Turkey's most important mosques, a powerful vision of Christian-Muslim understanding at a time when neighboring countries are experiencing violent Islamic assault on Christians and religious minorities. His head bowed, eyes closed and hands clasped in front of him, Francis prayed alongside the Grand Mufti of Istanbul, Rahmi Yaran, in the 17th-century Sultan Ahmet mosque, shifting gears to religious concerns on the second day of his three-day visit to Turkey. The Vatican spokesman, Rev. Federico Lombardi called it a moment of "silent adoration." Lombardi said Francis told the mufti twice that Christians and Muslims must "adore" God and not just praise and glorify him.
Francis' visit comes at an exceedingly tense time for Turkey, with Islamic State militants grabbing territory next door in Syria and Iraq and sending some 1.6 million refugees fleeing across the border. Some refugees were expected to attend Francis' final event on Sunday before he returns to Rome. Francis nodded, smiled and looked up in awe as Yaran gave him a tour of the Blue Mosque, famed for its elaborate blue tiles and cascading domes. Presenting the pope with a blue, tulip-designed tile, Yaran said he prayed to God that his visit would "contribute to the world getting along well and living in peace." "We are in need of prayers. The world really needs prayers," Yaran said.
Francis was following in the footsteps of Pope Benedict XVI, who visited Turkey in 2006 amid heightened Christian-Muslim tensions over a now-infamous papal speech linking violence with the Prophet Mohammed. The Vatican added the stop at the Blue Mosque at the last minute to show Benedict's respect for Muslims, a gesture that was greatly appreciated by Turks.
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