Erdoğan hears plea for Christians as Pontiff begins three-day visit.
Vatican Radio — Pope Francis has urged more interreligious dialogue to help bring peace and end all forms of "fundamentalism, terrorism and irrational fears."
His appeal came in a speech to Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and other top political leaders on the first day of his pastoral visit to the cities of Ankara and Istanbul.
His visit comes in response to invitations from the Turkish government and from the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I, spiritual leader of 300 million Orthodox Christians.
In his discourse today, the Pope stressed the importance of religious freedom and respect for human dignity and said we must never "resign ourselves" to ongoing conflicts in the Middle East.
He spoke of his concern over the conflicts in Iraq and Syria along with the "grave persecution" of minorities there and praised Turkey’s "generous" response in welcoming a large number of refugees from these regional conflicts.
Here is an English translation of Pope Francis’ address to President Erdoğan and other Turkish political leaders:
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I am pleased to visit your country so rich in natural beauty and history, and filled with vestiges of ancient civilizations. It is a natural bridge between two continents and diverse cultures. This land is precious to every Christian for being the birthplace of Saint Paul, who founded various Christian communities here, and for hosting the first seven Councils of the Church. It is also renowned for the site near Ephesus which a venerable tradition holds to be the “Home of Mary,” the place where the Mother of Jesus lived for some years. It is now a place of devotion for innumerable pilgrims from all over the world, not only for Christians, but also for Muslims.
Yet, the reasons why Turkey is held with such regard and appreciation are not only linked to its past and ancient monuments, but also have to do with the vitality of its present, the hard work and generosity of its people, and its role in the concert of nations.
It brings me great joy to have this opportunity to pursue with you a dialogue of friendship, esteem and respect, in the footsteps of my predecessors Blessed Paul VI, Saint John Paul II and Benedict XVI. This dialogue was prepared for and supported by the work of the then Apostolic Delegate, Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli, who went on to become Saint John XXIII, and by the Second Vatican Council.
Today what is needed is a dialogue which can deepen the understanding and appreciation of the many things which we hold in common. Such a dialogue will allow us to reflect sensibly and serenely on our differences, and to learn from them.
There is a need to move forward patiently in the task of building a lasting peace, one founded on respect for the fundamental rights and duties rooted in the dignity of each person. In this way, we can overcome prejudices and unwarranted fears, leaving room for respect, encounter, and the release of more positive energies for the good of all.
To this end, it is essential that all citizens – Muslim, Jewish and Christian – both in the provision and practice of the law, enjoy the same rights and respect the same duties. They will then find it easier to see each other as brothers and sisters who are travelling the same path, seeking always to reject misunderstandings while promoting cooperation and concord. Freedom of religion and freedom of expression, when truly guaranteed to each person, will help friendship to flourish and thus become an eloquent sign of peace.
The Middle East, Europe and the world all await this maturing of friendship. The Middle East, in particular, has for too long been a theater of fratricidal wars, one born of the other, as if the only possible response to war and violence must be new wars and further acts of violence.