Pope to highlight the plight of Middle East Christians on visit to Istanbul

Pope Francis has arrived in Turkey where he is expected to condemn the violence being done in God’s name by Islamic State in neighbouring Syria and Iraq. Turkey has been forced to take in about 1.6 million refugees from the fighting across the border, including some minority Christians. Francis has paid tribute to Ankara’s willingness to take in those fleeing the advance of the Islamist extremists, who have imposed a harsh interpretation of Sharia law after seizing control of much of northern Syria and Iraq. But the Pope is expected to highlight the ongoing plight of all Christian communities across the Middle East.

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Before travelling, he repeated that it was legitimate to use force to stop the Islamic State advance, but only with the endorsement of the international community. The Pope will move on to Istanbul on Saturday and Sunday, visiting the Hagia Sophia, a Byzantine church that was turned into a mosque after the conquest of Constantinople in 1453 and now serves as a museum, and the Sultan Ahmet mosque, known as the Blue Mosque. He will also meet Patriarch Bartholomew I, the so-called “first among equals” of the world’s 300 million Orthodox believers, in an attempt to build relations following a schism between the two churches dating back to 1054. Turkey’s Christian community is tiny - 80,000 worshippers in a country of 75 million Muslims