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Pope Says Mass in One of Turkey's Most-Revered Christian Sites

  • Sabina Castelfranco

Pope Benedict called for peace in the Holy Land and prayed for full communion among Christians. His calls came during a mass celebrated at a small stone sanctuary in Ephesus, where the Virgin Mary is believed by many to have lived the last years of her life. Sabina Castelfranco has this VOA report from Istanbul.

After a busy first day in Ankara, Pope Benedict flew to Izmir, from where he traveled on to Ephesus. Just four kilometers away is one of the most-significant Christian sites in Turkey. Here, the Pope celebrated an outdoor mass for around 250 people, one of the smallest crowds ever to attend a papal mass.

Many had gathered at the restored stone "House of Mary" sanctuary in the morning, waiting for the pope to arrive. They waved palm leaves and Turkish flags and sang hymns.

The pope appeared in good spirits. He smiled at the crowd that clapped and shouted out his name. In his homily, the pontiff prayed for peace in the world and, in particular, in the Holy Land.

The pope said, "From this edge of the Anatolian Peninsula - a natural bridge between continents - let us implore peace and reconciliation, above all for those living in the land called "Holy" and considered as such by Christians, Jews and Muslims, alike."

The pope noted Catholics of different rites attended Wednesday's celebration. He called this a reason for joy and he prayed for full communion among Christians.

Benedict is the third pope to make the pilgrimage to the "House of Mary." Paul VI visited in 1967 and John Paul II came here in 1979.

Every year, tens of thousands of Christians and Muslims visit the "House of Mary" where, according to legend, the mother of Jesus lived the last years of her life. It is here that Saint John the Apostle is believed to have brought the Virgin Mary to care for her, after the death of her son, Jesus.

The site was discovered in 1891 by archeologists, who based their search on writings by the German nun, Anne Catherine Emmerich.

After lunch at the Capuchin Convent in Ephesus, the Pope was traveling on to Istanbul where, on Wednesday evening, he would meet with Patriarch Bartholomew I - the leader of the world's 250 million Orthodox Christians.

Extraordinary security measures are in place, in the city at the crossroads of Europe and Asia, to ensure there are no disruptions to the pope's visit.

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