Sunday, 30 November 2014
POPE FRANCIS ENDS TURKISH TOUR TODAY.
At the start of a three-day visit to Turkey, the pope also reaffirmed his belief in dialogue between religions, saying it could be a key part of bringing peace to the region. Relations between Christian and Muslims have come under strain in recent months amid violence against Christians by Islamic extremists in Syria and Iraq, with some critics saying Islamic leaders haven’t denounced the atrocities strongly enough.
“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,” the pope said. “Interreligious and intercultural dialogue can make an important contribution to [peace], so that there will be an end to all forms of fundamentalism and terrorism.”
Pope Francis’ outreach to Islam during his 20-month papacy has earned him praise by Muslim leaders. In making his comments, the pope walked a fine line between extending a hand to Muslim leaders and prodding them to do more to guarantee the rights of non-Muslim minorities, at home and across borders.
Mr. Erdogan, a pious Muslim who has scaled back the rigid secularism that long reigned in Turkey, held up the country’s Islamic-infused democracy as a model for reconciliation in a region torn by sectarian strife. But the country’s small Christian population argues its rights are being trampled.
Mr. Erdogan welcomed the pope’s call for religious tolerance while pointing out that Islamophobia was on the rise. He underlined the issue of “increasing prejudice and intolerance against Muslims.”
The pontiff also praised Turkey for welcoming huge numbers of Iraqi and Syrian refugees, but challenged Ankara to help find “viable paths of peace” in the war-torn region. He reiterated his support of multilateral military intervention to stop the violence by Islamic State.
While the pope has repeatedly said that an accurate reading of Islam doesn'tjustify violence, the Vatican has increasingly pushed Muslim leaders to do more to rein in fundamentalist groups.
Following criticisms that Muslim leaders were slow to speak out against violence by radical Islamists, top clerics in Saudi Arabia and Egypt have condemned such acts as betraying Islam.
The pope was in the Turkish capital for his sixth trip abroad since his March 2013 election. Turkey is the fourth Muslim-majority country he has visited, and by far the biggest.
Nearly 99% of Turkey’s 82 million citizens are Muslim. In 2010, Christians in general numbered about 300,000 in Turkey, according to figures from the Pew Research Center. Catholics, which number just 53,000, are a tiny minority.
Christians complain that they lack religious freedom and suffer discrimination. The U.S. Commission on Religious Freedom had “significant concerns” with religious freedoms enjoyed by non-Muslim minorities in Turkey.
Pope Francis’ visit is expected to be far smoother than the last papal trip in 2006, when Pope Benedict XVI arrived in the wake of protests in the Muslim world following a speech he gave in Regensburg, Germany, that appeared to link Islam with violence.
That trip was conducted under heavy security. Benedict smoothed over tensions somewhat when the Vatican agreed he would visit the famed Blue Mosque in Istanbul.
Pope Francis has said he hoped to travel to the border to personally visit refugees from Syria. He sent a personal envoy in August to deliver money from his charitable fund for relief efforts, telling journalists at the time that Vatican officials advised against him visiting for security reasons.
The formal reason for the pope’s visit is to meet with Patriarch Bartholomew I, the spiritual leader of the world’s Orthodox Christians. The trip coincides with the Nov. 30 feast day of St. Andrew, the patron saint of the Eastern Church.
The Vatican hasn't yet said whether Pope Francis will pray there. When Pope Paul VI prayed inside the building during a 1967 visit to Istanbul, some Muslims staged protests.
Mr. Erdogan received the pope Friday 28th November, 2014 in his huge new presidential compound, which has nearly 1,000 rooms and is estimated to have cost at least $650 million to build. The pope is the first head of state received in the new building.
Critics have denounced the extravagance of the presidential palace and asked the pope to refuse a visit there. But the Vatican said arrangements for welcoming foreign dignitaries are the prerogative of host countries.