Pope Benedict: 'My trip is not political but pastoral'

 At 9.20am today, the Holy Father departed from Rome's Fiumicino airport bound for Turkey, where he landed three hours later at Ankara's Esemboga airport. Thus began Benedict XVI's fifth apostolic trip outside Italy. Speaking to the journalists accompanying him on his flight, the Pope affirmed that his visit to Turkey "is not political but pastoral," and that its aim is "dialogue and the shared commitment to peace." As he descended from his aircraft, the Holy Father was greeted by Recep Tayyip Erdogan, prime minister of Turkey, by the governor of the local region, and by the military commander and the mayor of Ankara, the capital of Turkey, a city of some five million inhabitants. Also there to greet him was Archbishop Ruggero Franceschini OFM Cap., of Izmir, president of the Catholic Episcopal Conference of Turkey. The Holy Father then went to a room within the airport building where he held a meeting with the prime minister. Following this meeting, which lasted 20 minutes, the Pope travelled by car to the Mausoleum of Ataturk some 45 kilometers from the city. Built between 1944 and 1953, it holds the earthly remains of Mustafa Kemal "Ataturk" (Father of the Turks), founder and first president of the Turkish Republic (1923-1938). Within the building, which resembles a Greek temple and is reached by a flight of steps, the walls are covered in green marble and the ceiling decorated with gold mosaics. The cenotaph to Ataturk is made from a single block of marble weighing 40 tonnes. At 3pm local time (2pm in Rome), Benedict XVI was received by Ahmet Necdet Sezer, president of the Republic of Turkey, in the presidential palace. Subsequently he met with one of the country's two vice prime ministers in the "Guest House" of the presidential palace. This afternoon, the Pope is scheduled to meet with Ali Bardokoglu, Turkey's president for religious affairs, in the "Diyanet," the headquarters of his department. Turkey has 72 million inhabitants, of whom 99.8 percent are Muslims. The remaining 0.20 percent is made up of Christians of various rites (Greek-Orthodox, Syro-Orthodox, Armenian-Orthodox, Protestants and Catholics) and Jews. Catholics number some 32,000, about 0.04 percent of the total population. The Catholic Episcopal Conference of Turkey is made up of six bishops. Currently, there are 47 parishes, 68 priests, 98 male and female religious, four permanent deacons, five major seminarians and 28 catechists. Source: VIS

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