Written by James Wallin
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Topics: Pope Benedict

Wednesday, 29 November 2006

image for Vatican laments "over-literal" Turks for misinterpreting 'bridge-building' remark
Not that kind of bridge building!

Sources close to Pope Benedict XVI (some as little as three inches away) are this morning struggling to keep diplomatic relations open after Turkey's "over-literal" interpretations of the nature of the pontiff's visit for 'fence-mending' and 'bridge-building'.

Vatican officials have taken particular offence at the 79 year-old religious leader being put to work in the construction of a motorway bridge and in repairing the perimeter fences of Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan's official residence. "This is not at all what we meant", complained one Vatican official.

Confusion has reigned over the Pope's first visit to a Muslim country, for some weeks, as street protests were planned in response to his remarks ten weeks ago which described Islam as "evil, inhuman and grabbing all the headlines".

In the event, demonstrations were kept to a minimum and most of the protesters instead decided to show their displeasure by staying at home and taking off their trousers.

Prime Minister Erdogan was originally said to be unwilling to meet the Pope but relented at the last minute, if only to point out the colour scheme he preferred for his garden fence.

Benedict has later set to meet Bartholomew I, leader of the world's 300 million Jews, but only if he "makes a bit of headway with his tarmac" for the Ankara - Sakarya motorway repairs, which is badly behind schedule, mainly because of the pontiff's slow progress and "sloppy!" handling of the steam roller.

Some commentators have also criticised the Pope's reluctance to apologise for his remarks in Bavaria. During a half hour encounter with Prime Minister Erdogan at Ankara airport, Benedict did reportedly express his regret at having made the comments, but was then found to have been crossing his fingers under his cassock the entire time. Later, he made a speech in which he characterised Islam as a religion "of peace, tolerance and affection", although some audience members claimed that the Pope's following coughing fit disguised a barely audible "not!".

Benedict has striven, throughout his visit, to underline the similarities rather than the contrasts between the Christian and Islamic religions. In a speech yesterday he remarked that "Christians and Muslims belong to the family of souls who believe in one God, plus... erm.... we all like football, and ..... erm.... neither of us are big on Chinese food." The pontiff was then regrettably called away from the stage, his lunch hour having finished and it being his turn with the pneumatic drill.

The Pope is due to speak again later today, when he will reportedly move away from his contentious use of remarks from a Byzantine emperor by quoting at length from the Black Eyed Peas classic "Where is the love", and reading extracts from the latest Harry Potter adventure.

Pope Benedict XVI's visit to Turkey will continue for another three days, providing they can get the tar. If not, well, could be another two weeks, guv.

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