Just two weeks after being elected, Pope Francis washed 12 people’s feet in Rome at a detention center for juveniles for the annual ritual Holy Thursday. Amongst those chosen for this rite was a girl who was Muslim.
The image of Pope Francis washing then kissing the feet of the girl sent a huge message: After tensions during the reign of Pope Benedict XVI, which peaked when his speech in 2006 linked violence with Islam, the new pontiff intended to reestablish the relations between Catholicism and the Muslim world.
Only a year and a half since then, the limits of the efforts of the Vatican are being tested as the Vatican is calling on leaders in the Muslim world to do more in denouncing the Islamic State and the atrocities the group has carried out against the religious minorities and guarantee Christians religious freedom.
The visit by the pope to Turkey this weekend, where Christian communities were once robust but have dwindled, and a Muslim majority now stakes greater claim, provides a critical example.
This trip is the fourth by the pope to a country that has a Muslim majority, but Turkey, which has 99% of its more than 82-million population being Muslim, is the biggest by far.
In his trip of three days, Pope Francis is scheduled to visit Istanbul and Ankara, while meeting with Orthodox Christian and Muslim leaders and top politicians in Turkey including Recep Tayyip Erdogan the President.
He is also visiting the Blue Mosque the 17th century main mosque of Istanbul and Hagia Sophia the iconic landmark in Istanbul that is a symbol of the clear challenges he is facing. Now just a museum, it for centuries was an Eastern Orthodox cathedral prior to being converted back to a mosque.
Some of the Muslim leaders in Turkey want it converted back to a mosque, which has alarmed Christians in Turkey.