Muslims, Christians part of same 'family': Pope

The Pope began his Turkish trip by speaking of Christian and Muslim ties. He urged religious leaders to condemn violence committed in the name of faith.

The Pope began his controversial visit to Turkey by highlighting the brotherhood that exists between Christians and Muslims, and urging religious leaders to condemn violence committed in the name of faith.

After meeting with Turkey's head of religious affairs on Tuesday, Benedict XVI said Christians and Muslims belong tothe family of those who believe in one God.

Both religions value the sacred character and dignity of the person, he said. He asked that there be an open dialogue between the two faiths.

"This is the basis of our mutual respect and esteem," he said. "This is the basis for co-operation in the service of peace between nations and people."

The Pope's four-day tour of the Muslim country is being described as one of the riskiest foreign ventures in the modern papacy. Benedict's recent remarks on Islam have drawn ire in Turkey and many have protested his visit.

Benedict said Tuesday freedom of religion is essential for a just society.

He asked faith leaders to "utterly reject" any form of violence committed on behalf of religion, but he avoided any direct reference to Islam.

Instead, he spoke of "disturbing" violence in the Middle East and he shared worries that there will be more killing and terrorism around the world.

He said "recent developments in terrorism and in certain regional conflicts" highlight the need for international efforts, such as the peacekeeping forces in Lebanon.

September speech angered many

The Pope has drawn anger in the Muslim world over comments he made in a speech in Germany in September.

He quoted a 14th-century Christian emperor who called the Prophet Muhammad's teachings "evil and inhuman" and spoke of Muhammad's "command to spread by the sword the faith he preached."

Tuesday, Turkey's religious affairs chief, Ali Bardakoglu, appeared to make reference to that speech after his meeting with the Pope.

"The so-called conviction that the sword is used to expand Islam in the world and growing Islamophobia hurts all Muslims," Bardakoglu said in a joint appearance with the Pope.

The Pope's trip is being hailed as an attempt to heal the divide between the Christian and Muslim world. It is his first visit to a Muslim country since he became leader of the world's 1.1 billion Roman Catholics in 2005.

Pope greeted by Turkish prime minister

He was greeted at the Ankara airport on Tuesday by Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who maintained suspense until the day before the pontiff's arrival about whether he would greet him or snub him.

After their airport chat, Erdogan said the Pope, who has spoken against admitting Turkey to the European Union, now favours the country's EU bid, Reuters reported.

Although 25,000 Turks protested the Pope's visit in a rally in Istanbul on Sunday, most are indifferent to the visit, one Turkish journalist said.

"The radicals are out in the streets demonstrating against the September speech of the Pope. They are talking about an Orthodox-Catholic world coming together against Islam," Yusuf Kanli, chief columnist of the Turkish Daily News, told CBC News.

"These are radicals. They cannot represent the entire Turkish population. Having 20,000, 25,000 people protesting an event in a country of 73 million … should be considered normal."

Turkish police set up positions along the highway leading from the airport, where Turkish and Vatican flags waved in a light breeze. Snipers were perched on buildings and hilltops. In wooded areas along the route, soldiers set up observation points and sniffer dogs passed along bridges.

Full-scale security blanket

Authorities have imposed a full-scale security blanket — tighter than even for the visit of U.S. President George W. Bush in 2004 — in attempts to block another possible wave of protests.

News reports say about 3,000 police officers have been assigned to guard the Pope for his arrival in the dusty, sprawling capital. Police also were staking out spots in Istanbul, where Benedict will spend most of his four days in Turkey.

"We have taken all the necessary measures and observations of the route the Pope [will travel] and the places the Pope will visit," Istanbul police spokesman Ismail Caliskan said.

With only 30,000 Roman Catholics in the Turkish nation of 72 million Muslims, the Pope's trip has lacked some of the pageantry of a usual papal pilgrimage. With a fear for safety, only one open-air event has been planned, with all others in heavily guarded buildings.

After spending Tuesday night in Ankara, Benedict will visit Ephesus and Istanbul, where he will meet with Bartholomew I, the Istanbul-based leader of the world's more than 250 million Orthodox Christians.

With files from the Associated Press