The leader of the Catholic Church and the Turkish head of state were in agreement regarding the status of Jerusalem
Pope Francis and Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan met Monday, the first time in 60 years that a Turkish president has visited a pontiff at the Vatican.
At the center of the conversation between the pope and the Turkish head of state was the issue of Jerusalem, recognized as the capital of Israel by the Donald Trump administration despite the protests of the governments of other Middle Eastern nations.
“I thank you very much for your interest,” said Erdogan to the pope when they shook hands, according to the reporters admitted to the greetings between the leaders before the their closed-door meeting in the Apostolic Library.
As Francis and Erdogan exchanged gifts, the pope explained that his offering is “the angel of peace that strangles the demon of war—symbol of a world based on peace and justice.”
Besides presenting him with that medallion, the pope gave the leader an engraving of the original St. Peter’s Basilica as it looked in 1600, a copy of the encyclical Laudato Sì’, and his Message for this year’s World Day of Peace.
For his part, Erdogan gave the pope a large illustration painted on ceramic of a panoramic view of Istanbul, and a box of books of Muslim poet and mystic Mevlana Rumi.
During the conversations, they spoke about bilateral relations and discussed the situation of the Catholic community, as well as the need to welcome the numerous refugees, with the challenges that comes with that, according to the Vatican Press Office.
They then spoke about “the situation in the Middle East, with particular reference to the status of Jerusalem, highlighting the need to promote peace and stability in the region through dialogue and negotiation, with respect for human rights and international law,” says the official press release.
“The status of Jerusalem is a central issue for Muslims and Christians; both the pope and I are committed to protecting the status quo,” said Erdogan in an interview published by the Italian newspaper La Stampa on Sunday.
Other issues that formed the background for the meeting were Turkey’s concern about Islamophobia in Europe and the West in general, its role in the conflict in Syria, and immigration. While the two leaders agreed on certain important issues, there continues to be divergence between their positions on the Turkish use of strong military force against the Kurds, and on the issue of respect for human dignity.
According to the Turkish leader, “no country has the right to take unilateral steps and ignore international law in dealing with a problem that affects billions of people.”
This meeting was an important rapprochement after Erdogan in the past had spoken harshly against Pope Francis’ mention of the “Armenian holocaust.”
The position of the Pope and the Holy See is to receive all heads of state who are possible allies in discerning the causes of violence and possible ways to bring greater peace to the world.
Not everyone appreciated this perspective; in sight of the Vatican, in front of Castel Sant’Angelo, a crowd of protesters—especially members of the Kurdish community in Italy—gathered to denounce Erdogan’s visit to the pope.
After meeting with the pope, Erdogan met with Vatican Secretary of State Pietro Parolin and visited St. Peter’s Basilica.