VATICAN CITY – Pope Benedict XVI said Sunday that his recent trip to Turkey was an "unforgettable experience" that will hopefully lead to useful dialogue with Muslims.
The pontiff, who returned Friday from the four-day visit, made a special mention of Turkey's Catholic community during his traditional blessing from his window in St. Peter's Square that also marked the beginning of Advent, which starts four Sundays before Christmas and is the beginning of the ecclesiastical year.
Benedict said his trip was "an unforgettable spiritual and pastoral experience, which I hope will produce the fruits for an increasingly sincere cooperation between all of Christ's disciples, and a useful dialogue with Muslims."
"I would especially like to remember with affection the dear Catholic community that lives on Turkish land," the pope added. "I was able to celebrate Holy Mass with our brothers and sisters, who often find themselves in situations that are not easy."
Benedict's trip was originally envisioned as a pilgrimage to reinforce Christian bonds and reach out to Turkey's remaining Christians, including Catholics estimated to number between 20,000 and 30,000.
But after the pope gave a speech in September that angered many Muslims, it became a test of the Vatican's ability to mend ties with the Islamic world.
Muslims throughout the world reacted angrily — and in some cases violently — to the speech, in which Benedict quoted a Byzantine emperor who characterized some of the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad as "evil and inhuman," particularly "his command to spread by the sword the faith."
The pope sought to remake his battered image among Muslims during four days of speeches, sermons and a moment of silent prayer in a mosque while facing Mecca.
But he also made some sensitive demands: wider protections and rights for Christian minorities in the Muslim world, including Turkey's tiny communities whose roots go back to the apostles.
On Friday, he celebrated a Mass for members of Turkey's Roman Catholic community, which numbers no more than 30,000.
"I was able to meet and celebrate Holy Mass with these brothers and sisters of ours, who live in conditions that often aren't easy," Benedict said Sunday. "It is truly a tiny, varied flock, rich with enthusiasm and faith."