A statement released by the Vatican has confirmed that Pope Francis will visit Turkey in November, where he is expected to participate in celebrations surrounding the orthodox feast of St. Andrew. “This morning the Holy See received the official letter of invitation from the part of the President of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, for a trip of Pope Francis to the country,” the Sept. 12 statement, signed by Vatican spokesman Fr. Federico Lombardi S.J., read. “So the preparation will proceed for the trip in the final days of November, but the length and schedule of the same trip are still to be defined.” The visit most likely follow the pontiff’s Nov. 25 visit to Strasbourg, which was announced by the Vatican on Sept. 11. Following an invitation from President of the European Parliament Martin Schulz, the Pope will travel to Strasbourg for the day and address parliament members “during a solemn session.” During his visit to Turkey, it is anticipated that Pope Francis will go to Istanbul on Nov. 30 in order to celebrate the feast of St. Andrew, who is the founder of the Eastern Church and patron of the Orthodox world. According to Vatican Radio, a delegation from the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of Christian Unity frequently travels to Turkey for the celebration, however this year Patriarch Bartholomew I of Constantinople invited Roman Pontiff to participate in person. Should Pope Francis attend festivities in Istanbul, he would follow in the footsteps of his predecessor, retired pontiff Benedict XVI, who traveled to the cities of Ankara, Ephesus and Istanbul in November of 2006. Pope Francis and Bartholomew I have already met numerous times. They issued a joint declaration during the Pope’s voyage to Jordan and Israel in May, and worked together in organizing the Invocation for Peace in the Middle East held at the Vatican Gardens June 8. Bartholomew I has also been committed to organizing a pan-Orthodox synod in an attempt to transcend divisions between Orthodox Churches and to move towards an internal unity in favor of dialogue with Rome. Relations between the Ecumenical Orthodox Patriarch and the Pope have been so close that there have been rumors that they are collaborating on the Pope’s anticipated encyclical on ecology, making it a joint encyclical letter on the topic. Pope Francis also expressed his desire to travel the African country of Tunisia in a Sept. 11 meeting with it’s president, Moncef Marzouki. A Sept. 11 statement published on the presidency’s website revealed that “The Pope of the Vatican has accepted an invitation to visit Tunisia extended to him by President Moncef Marzouki,” and that an exact date would be set “in due time.” According to Vatican Radio, other issues the two discussed were the defense of freedom of conscience and religious liberty, as well as the rejection of all forms of violence and extremism. Marzouki praised the Catholic Church for their contribution to the wellbeing of Tunisian citizens, particularly the poor and most needy. The two also discussed matters of regional and international interest, giving special attention to the situation in the Mediterranean basin.
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