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With gesture, pope reaches out to Muslims

Pope Benedict XVI looked toward Mecca.

He bowed his head. He prayed.

In that stunning moment in Istanbul's most famous mosque Thursday, the pope stood before the entire Muslim world. It's now their judgment on whether to accept the pontiff's appeals for trust and reconciliation.

"This visit will help us find together the way of peace for the good of all humanity," the pope said inside the 17th century Blue Mosque after standing in silent prayer alongside the top Islamic cleric of Istanbul.

The message was designed to resonate loudly nearly three months after the Roman Catholic pontiff provoked worldwide fury for remarks on violence and the Prophet Muhammad. And the image is certain to be remembered as one of the historical moments of his papacy.

It was only the second papal visit in history to a Muslim place of worship. Benedict's predecessor, John Paul II, made a brief stop in a mosque in Syria in 2001.

Benedict's steps through a stone archway and into the mosque's carpeted expanse capped a day of deep symbolism and lofty goals. Hours earlier, he stood beside the spiritual leader of the world's Orthodox Christians and passionately encouraged steps to end the nearly 1,000-year divide between their churches.

At the mosque, the pope walked beside Mustafa Cagrici, the head cleric of Istanbul. Facing the holy city of Mecca - in the tradition of Islamic worship - Cagrici said: "Now I'm going to pray." Benedict, too, bowed his head and his lips moved as if reciting words.

Before the pope left, he turned to Cagrici and thanked him "for this moment of prayer."

"A single swallow can't bring spring," Cagrici told the pope, who ends his first papal trip to a Muslim nation on Friday. "But many swallows will follow and we will enjoy a spring in this world."

The pope has offered wide-ranging messages of reconciliation to Muslims since arriving in Turkey on Tuesday, including appeals for greater understanding and support for Turkey's steps to become the first Muslim nation in the European Union.

But Benedict also has set down his own demands.

The pope repeated calls for greater freedoms for religious minorities - including the tiny Christian community in Turkey - and denounced divisions between Christians as a "scandal."

China ignores Vatican, ordains bishop

BEIJING - China ordained a new bishop in its state-approved church Thursday without Vatican approval, a move that could further strain relations between Beijing and Roman Catholic authorities.

Wang Renlei, the 37-year-old vicar-general of the Xuzhou Diocese in the eastern province of Jiangsu, was ordained in a two-hour ceremony attended by about 1,000 people, said Liu Bainian, deputy chairman of the government-backed Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association.

AsiaNews, a Vatican-affiliated news agency, said Wang "is known as an easygoing person who is very timid toward the government."

The news agency said priests in the official church are increasingly reluctant to ordain, or be ordained, without the Vatican's permission.

China's ties with the Vatican were broken in 1951 after the communists took power.