Pope Benedict arrives in predominantly Muslim Turkey on Tuesday, and already there have been demonstrations against his visit. But Vatican officials say they expect the trip to go well, although there are not expected to be large crowds greeting the pope. Sabina Castelfranco reports for VOA from Istanbul.
Authorities are bracing for protests when the pope arrives. A group of nationalist Turks protesting his visit earlier this week briefly occupied Haghia Sophia in Istanbul. The famous landmark used to be a Byzantine church, then became a mosque, and is now a museum.
Members of a pro-Islamic party are planning another large protest against the pope's visit in Istanbul on Sunday.
Thousands of police officers will be deployed when the pope arrives, and the Turkish security services have suggested it would be safer, if the pope wore a bullet-proof vest.
Vatican officials, like Secretary of State Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, say they are not concerned about the demonstrations. He says: "We received nearly daily information on the situation and measures taken to ensure security and a good outcome to the trip." After all, the cardinal added, demonstrations are a way of expressing one's position, they are part of the freedom of expression, which exists in a country like Turkey.
The cardinal expressed optimism about Pope Benedict's visit to Turkey. "I think that the trip will go well," he said. "We have trust in the Turkish government and in the wiseness of the Turkish people. They may not fill the streets like in some trips by Pope John Paul the Second in the past, but maybe they will watch televisions to listen to what the pope has to say, and then maybe think about the significance about this historic visit."
Benedict is expected to use the visit to try to improve relations with Muslims. Two months ago, the pope sparked widespread protests in the Muslim world by quoting a 14th century Byzantine emperor, who called some of the teachings of the Muslim Prophet Muhammad "evil" and "inhuman."
The pope is also considering a brief visit to the Blue Mosque in Istanbul. It would be the first time Benedict visits a mosque since he was elected pope.
Initially, Pope Benedict was not expected to meet with Turkey's prime minister, who leaves for a NATO summit in Latvia on the day the pope arrives in Turkey. But now, the prime minister has said there may be an opportunity for a brief meeting at the airport.