Turkey's small community of 53,000 Catholics — amid a population of 76 million — is anticipating Pope Francis' upcoming trip to the country with joyful hearts, says Istanbul's apostolic vicariate. The vicariate voiced gratitude for the Pope's visit, which will coincide with the feast of the Apostle Andrew, the patron saint of the Orthodox Church. In response to an invitation sent by Patriarch Bartolomeo I of Constantinople, Pope Francis will make a three-day trip to Turkey, during which he will visit the cities of Ankara and Istanbul. Announced in September following the reception of an official letter of invitation signed by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the trip will take place Nov. 28-30, and falls just days after Pope Francis' Nov. 25 address to the European Parliament in Strasbourg. In stark contrast with his previous trips, usually packed with various liturgies, audiences and meetings with diverse groups of people, Pope Francis is keeping his schedule light, and will only give 3 public speeches, one being a homily for Mass on the second day of his trip. On Nov. 28, the Pope will fly directly to the Turkish capital of Ankara, where he will meet with political authorities. The following day, he will travel by plane to Istanbul, Turkey's largest city, where he will visit the historic Hagia Sophia museum, which is a former Greek Orthodox patriarchal basilica that was later transformed into an imperial mosque. He will then visit the historic Sultan Ahmet Mosque, also known as the “Blue Mosque” due to the blue tiles covering the inside. After his visit to these two historically significant sites, the Pope will celebrate Mass in Istanbul’s Cathedral of the Holy Spirit. He will then participate in an ecumenical prayer at the Patriarchal church of St. George, after which he will have a private encounter with His Holiness Bartholomew I. On his final day in Turkey Pope Francis will hold a private Mass in the morning before praying the Divine Liturgy at the Patriarchal church of St. George and signing a joint declaration with Bartolomeo I. In its statement, the vicaiate says that the upcoming papal trip continues the journey begun by Blessed Paul VI and Patriarch Athenagoras towards Christian unity in 1964 in Jerusalem. “The visit by Pope Francis is in the framework of this venerable tradition because, in the words of Patriarch Bartholomew I, 'We want to work intensely and together for the holy cause of full communion in Jesus Christ.'” Turkey awaits Pope Francis “with joyful and thankful hearts,” the vicariate said, voicing hope that “his presence and words will confirm us in the faith and strengthen our hope in Jesus Christ, the Lord of history and the Savior of the world.”
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