ISTANBUL, Turkey (AP) – Pope Benedict XVI joined an Islamic cleric in prayers under the towering dome of Istanbul’s most famous mosque yesterday in a powerful gesture seeking to transform his image among Muslims from adversary to peacemaker.

The pope’s minute of prayer was done in silence, but the message of reconciliation was designed to resonate loudly nearly three months after he provoked worldwide fury for remarks on violence and the Prophet Muhammad.

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.

The pope walked to the mosque after touring another majestic tribute to faith: the 1,500-year-old Haghia Sofia and its remarkable mix of Quranic calligraphy and Christian mosaics from its legacy as a marvel of early Christianity and then a coveted prize of Islam’s expansion.

At the mosque, the pope removed his shoes and put on white slippers. Then he 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.

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