VATICAN CITY - Just four days after an Italian priest was killed in Turkey, the Vatican confirmed that Pope Benedict XVI would visit the country Nov. 28-30.
While the pope had spoken publicly about wanting to go to Turkey, particularly to visit the Istanbul-based Ecumenical Orthodox Patriarchate of Constantinople, the Feb. 9 Vatican announcement was the first to mention specific dates.
Vatican spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls said in a statement to journalists that Turkish "President Ahmet Necdet Sezer invited His Holiness Benedict XVI to make an official visit to his nation Nov. 28-30. The Holy Father accepted the invitation."
"The details of the visit are being defined," Navarro-Valls said.
The Vatican announcement came on the eve of the funeral Mass for Father Andrea Santoro, a Rome priest who had been serving as a missionary in Turkey. He was shot and killed Feb. 5 as he prayed in St. Mary Church in the Black Sea coastal city of Trebizond. Turkish police arrested a 16-year-old male in connection with the murder.
The pope's trip to Turkey was scheduled to revolve around his participation in celebrations marking the Nov. 30 feast of St. Andrew, patron of the Orthodox patriarchate. A Vatican delegation attends the celebration each year.
Orthodox Patriarch Bartholomew invited the pope to head the delegation in 2005, and Pope Benedict spoke publicly about doing so, but the Turkish government's invitation was issued for 2006.
Copyright (c) 2006 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops