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In Turkey, pope makes pitch for Christian unity

Invoking the name of a martyred priest, Pope Benedict XVI on Wednesday made a pointed plea on behalf of Turkey's Christian minority and celebrated Mass in an ancient shrine revered as the last home of Mary, the mother of Christ.

Benedict ended his second day in Turkey with another gesture of religious unity: He joined the spiritual leader of the world's 250-million Orthodox Christians for prayer and blessings in Istanbul, a city that once served as a seat of medieval Christian power.

The day saw the pope shifting his focus from Muslim reconciliation to Christian solidarity.

The Vatican on Wednesday also responded to a statement from al-Qaida in Iraq denouncing the "crusader campaign" of the pope in Turkey as an affront to Islam. Spokesman Federico Lombardi said such threats are precisely the reason violence must be separated from religion, the core of the pope's message. Lombardi said the pope was not worried about the threat.

Security was already extremely tight for Benedict's first visit to a Muslim country. In Istanbul on Wednesday, miles and miles of city streets were closed to protect the papal convoy, with police in riot gear posted along the route.

The pope had intended his Turkey pilgrimage to highlight Christian unity and the bridging of the 1,000-year-old rift between Catholics and the Orthodox, who do not recognize the authority of the pope. But comments he made in September critical of Islam drew the ire of the Muslim world and forced him to change the agenda, using this visit to reach out to Muslims.

Benedict traveled to southwestern Turkey, to the ruins of the ancient Greek city of Ephesus and to the squat stone house where some Christians believe mother of Christ lived out her final days.

Benedict led Mass for a crowd of just several hundred; it might have been one of the smallest public audiences ever for a papal trip.

Later Wednesday, the pope flew to Istanbul, where he joined the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I for a prayer service at St. George Church, headquarters of Greek Orthodox worship.