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Pope denounces ‘homicidal madness’ after attacks in Berlin, Ankara

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — Expressing his condolences to victims and their families, Pope Francis called for an end to terrorism following a string of deadly attacks in Berlin and Ankara.

Similar to an attack with a truck that took place in July in Nice, France, a tractor-trailer veered into the crowded Breitscheidplatz Christmas market in Berlin and plowed through bystanders, killing 12 people and wounding nearly 50.

A mourner prays in front of a makeshift memorial Dec. 20 at the scene where a truck plowed into a crowded Christmas market the previous day in Berlin. The terrorist attack killed at least a dozen people and injured nearly 50 as it smashed through tables and wooden stands. (CNS photo/Hannibal Hanschke, Reuters)

A mourner prays in front of a makeshift memorial Dec. 20 at the scene where a truck plowed into a crowded Christmas market the previous day in Berlin. The terrorist attack killed at least a dozen people and injured nearly 50 as it smashed through tables and wooden stands. (CNS photo/Hannibal Hanschke, Reuters)

In a Dec. 20 telegram sent by Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican secretary of state, to Archbishop Heiner Koch of Berlin, the pope prayed for the families of the dead and the wounded, “assuring his closeness in their pain.”

“Pope Francis joins all people of good will who are working so that the homicidal madness of terrorism does not find any more room in our world,” Cardinal Parolin wrote.

Cardinal Parolin said the pope received news of the attack with “profound emotion” and joined the families of the victims in their mourning and “entrusts the dead to the mercy of God.”

Cardinal Reinhard Marx of Munich and Freising, Germany, president of the Commission of the Bishops’ Conferences of the European Community, said news of the attack in Berlin had “deeply shocked me” and called on the people of Germany to “hold together and stand united as a society.”

“The violence on the Christmas market is the opposite of what visitors were seeking. My compassion goes to the relatives of the dead and injured. For all of them, I will pray,” he said Dec. 20.

Police detained an asylum-seeker from Pakistan who was near the attack. However, as of Dec. 20, authorities said they are unsure whether he was the driver of the truck.

The attack in Berlin occurred not long after the assassination of Russia’s ambassador to Turkey, Andrey Karlov, by a lone gunman during the opening of an art exhibition in Ankara.

Mevlut Mert Altintas, an off-duty Turkish policeman, shot Karlov several times, shouting “Allahu akbar (God is great). Do not forget Aleppo! Do not forget Syria! Do not forget Aleppo! Do not forget Syria!”

The gunman was later shot and killed by police. Several family members and the gunman’s roommate were detained by investigators seeking a possible connection with terrorist groups.

Cardinal Parolin conveyed the pope’s condolences to President Vladimir Putin of Russia, saying he was “saddened to learn of the violent attack in Ankara.”

“In commending his soul to almighty God, Pope Francis assures you and all the people of the Russian Federation of his prayers and spiritual solidarity at this time,” Cardinal Parolin wrote.

The Vatican also told journalists that Archbishop Paul Gallagher, Vatican secretary for relations with states, telephoned the Russian ambassador to the Holy See, Alexander Avdeev, to “express his condolences for the murder of the Russian ambassador to Turkey.”

 

 

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In Turkey, Iraqi Christians waiting for resettlement live in limbo

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Catholic News Service

 

ISTANBUL (CNS) — Yako Hanna, 36, always keeps an eye on his phone waiting for a call that would change his life.

“Anytime it rings, you think it is the U.N., so you have to be careful. Even if you go to the bathroom, you have to take your mobile with you,” Hanna said, referring to the call he might receive from the U.N. refugee agency, UNHCR, which is handling his resettlement application to Australia, where he has relatives. Read more »

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Pope prays for peace following deadly terrorist attack at Istanbul’s airport

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis led pilgrims in praying for peace and for the victims of a terrorist attack at Istanbul’s Ataturk Airport in Turkey.

Relatives of one of the victims of the June 28 suicide attack at Istanbul's Ataturk Airport mourn June 29 in front of a morgue in Istanbul. The bombings killed 41 and wounded more than 200 as Turkish officials blamed the carnage at the international terminal on three suspected Islamic State group militants. (CNS photo/Osman Orsal, Reuters)

Relatives of one of the victims of the June 28 suicide attack at Istanbul’s Ataturk Airport mourn June 29 in front of a morgue in Istanbul. The bombings killed 41 and wounded more than 200 as Turkish officials blamed the carnage at the international terminal on three suspected Islamic State group militants. (CNS photo/Osman Orsal, Reuters)

“Yesterday evening in Istanbul, a heinous terrorist attack was made that has killed and wounded many people. Let us pray for the victims, their families and for the dear Turkish people,” the pope said June 29 after reciting the Angelus prayer with visitors in St. Peter’s Square.

The attack took place June 28 in the international terminal and the parking lot of the airport when three suspected terrorists opened fire and, shortly after, detonated their suicide vests.

Turkish officials said that, as of early June 29, the attack claimed the lives of 42 people, among them 10 foreign nationals, and left more than 200 people wounded.

Although no group has claimed responsibility for the attacks, Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim told reporters that preliminary signs point to the Islamic State, according to Reuters.

The terrorist organization carried out a similar attack at Brussels Airport and the Maelbeek metro station in Belgium March 22, which killed 32 people and wounded over 300.

Before leading thousands of pilgrims in silent prayer followed by the “Hail Mary,” Pope Francis prayed that those who perpetrate such attacks would have a change of heart.

“May the Lord convert the hearts of the violent and sustain our feet into the way of peace,” the pope said.

 

Follow Arocho on Twitter: @arochoju.

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‘We need to look after each other,’ Syrian refugee says

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Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON — Omar al-Muqdad has seen both sides of the refugee crisis.

In 2004, he assisted Iraqi refugees in his home country of Syria. And then nearly a decade later, he escaped the civil war in his country by first going to Turkey and then finding a temporary home in 2012 in Fayetteville, Arkansas, where he was the only Syrian refugee in the state.

Syrian refugee children stand outside their school in Zahle, Lebanon, in the country's Bekaa Valley April 12. The international Catholic charity Caritas has been instrumental in helping Syrian refugees attend Lebanese public schools to continue their education. (CNS photo/Dale Gavlak)

Syrian refugee children stand outside their school in Zahle, Lebanon, in the country’s Bekaa Valley April 12. The international Catholic charity Caritas has been instrumental in helping Syrian refugees attend Lebanese public schools to continue their education. (CNS photo/Dale Gavlak)

“I thought I knew what it was like to be a refugee, then I became a refugee and I needed someone to help me,” he told Catholic News Service April 15.

He realizes there is no rule requiring people to help refugees, but he feels there is an underlying premise that they should.

“It’s a human responsibility. We need to look after each other. You also don’t know if (this situation) could happen to you or someone else,” said al-Muqdad who met with officials of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishop’s Migration and Refugee Services in mid-April to share his experiences.

Al-Muqdad, 36, was assisted by MRS, Catholic Charities of Arkansas, the Diocese of Little Rock and St. Joseph Parish in Fayetteville. They helped him find an apartment and get what he needed, including rides to places while getting established in the United States and working toward citizenship. Today he lives in Arlington, Virginia, and works as a journalist.

He has worked on documentaries about refugees. His current work is about his own experience called “Back to Arkansas.”

When asked about Fayetteville, a far cry from the ancient Syrian town of Bosra where he lived, al-Muqdad, only has good things to say. He says the small town was friendly and beautiful. He also was able to find good Syrian food, which was definitely a plus.

“I really miss that town. I was touched by the treatment I received which was the opposite of what I heard: that people in the South don’t like strangers.”

“People opened their homes for me and just wanted to help,” he said, adding, “I didn’t feel for a second that I was a stranger there.”

And that’s what has made it all the more difficult for al-Muqdad to understand how Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson could say last fall that Syrian refugees would not be welcome.

“What was even more shocking is to learn that I was the only Syrian refugee that was officially admitted and granted residency in that state,” he wrote in a column in December for The National newspaper.

He realizes many of the governors who spoke out against Syrian refugees did this for security concerns, which he said he understands, to a point.

“As a Syrian who, like many other Syrians, suffered from the lack of security, I am completely in favor of a security check on everyone who wants to enter the country,” he wrote. “But that doesn’t mean it is possible to generalize the threat as coming from all refugees, or to paint them all with a single brush, or to say to all of these desperate people: ‘You are all a threat and need to stay out.’”

He has also been disheartened by comments from political candidates about shunning refugees, but he has confidence Americans will do the right thing on the issue.

Al-Muqdad pointed out that terrorists and refugees are not one and the same and stressed that terrorists would have a hard time getting into the U.S. through the refugee path which is time consuming and involves many meetings. He said he was interviewed twice by U.N. officials and multiple times by U.S. immigration officials. If there are gaps in your story, you won’t be admitted, he added.

“It’s a really tough process, and it’s OK,” he said, but countries should not shut their doors out of fear, he added, calling this the “wrong approach to solve this issue.”

At the end of March, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urged governments around the world to take in more Syrian refugees.

So far, the Obama administration’s goal of settling at least 10,000 Syrian refugees by Oct. 1 has not nearly been met. The U.S. Department of State reports that about 1,200 refugees have been resettled during the last six months. Overall, the U.S. has resettled about 3,100 Syrian refugees since 2011 when the civil war in Syria began. Turkey has the largest settlement of Syrian refugees followed by Lebanon and Jordan and then European countries.

During a March 30 conference in Geneva focused on refugees, Ban called the amount of people fleeing Syria “numbing.”

“But these are all individuals with tragic stories: Children who have lost their parents; Teenagers who are suddenly in charge of their families; Men and women, old and young, who have experienced terrible atrocities — some carry shrapnel in their bodies. All bear the mental scars of displacement,” he said in his remarks, posted on the UN website.

Al-Muqdad admits he has been frustrated with the American response to Syrian refugees, but he has also been heartened by “other voices” showing their support, including Catholic and Lutheran groups.

He says he is not a religious person and describes himself as “still investigating” his faith, but he is touched by what faith-based groups have done for him and other refugees.

Four years after his arrival here, Al-Muqdad who speaks Arabic, English and Italian, says it was easy to fit in and he has a lot of friends here from many nationalities.

That’s not to say he doesn’t long for his homeland. “I miss it so much, but it’s war there now and it’s breaking my heart,” he said.

While he waits for peace to return to Syria, he is focused on his new path.

“I have started to build a life here,” he said. “I’m an American now.”

 

Follow Zimmermann on Twitter @carolmaczim.

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In his passion, Jesus reveals God’s mercy, pope says

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — Just as the crowds and government officials tried to dodge responsibility for Jesus’ fate after he was arrested, so today too many individuals and countries want someone else to care for refugees fleeing violence and migrants seeking a better life, Pope Francis said.

Preaching about the story of Jesus’ passion and death on Palm Sunday, March 20, the pope said that in addition to betrayal and injustice, Jesus experienced indifference as the crowds who had hailed his entry into Jerusalem, Herod, Pilate and even his own disciples washed their hands of him.

Pope Francis holds palm fronds as he leads a ceremony at the obelisk during Palm Sunday Mass in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican March 20. (CNS/Paul Haring)

Pope Francis holds palm fronds as he leads a ceremony at the obelisk during Palm Sunday Mass in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican March 20. (CNS/Paul Haring)

“This makes me think of so many people, so many emarginated, so many migrants and refugees for whom many do not want to assume responsibility for their fate,” the pope said in his homily.

Greece and other European countries have been overwhelmed by refugees, particularly from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan. An agreement between Turkey and the European Union went into effect on Palm Sunday to prevent refugees from attempting dangerous sea crossings from Turkey and to stem the continuing flow of refugees into Europe. Under the agreement, most refugees arriving in Greece will be returned to Turkey. For each refugee returned, one who has not left Turkey should be resettled in the European Union.

Carrying a woven palm branch, known as a “palmurello,” Pope Francis led the Palm Sunday Mass with more than 60,000 people gathered on a warm spring morning in St. Peter’s Square.

Young people from Poland and around the world assisted at the Mass, carrying long palm branches in the procession and proclaiming the Scripture readings. With Krakow, Poland, set to host the international gathering of World Youth Day with Pope Francis in July, the day’s second reading was in Polish.

At the end of Mass, before reciting the Angelus, Pope Francis expressed his hope that in July many young Catholics would converge on Krakow, “homeland of St. John Paul II, who began World Youth Day.”

The Palm Sunday liturgy begins with a commemoration of Jesus entering Jerusalem to acclamations of “Hosanna” from the crowd. In his homily the pope said, “We have made that enthusiasm our own; by waving our olive and palm branches we have expressed our praise and our joy, our desire to receive Jesus who comes to us.”

The commemoration is not just about a historical event, the pope said. “Just as he entered Jerusalem, so he desires to enter our cities and our lives. As he did in the Gospel, riding on a donkey, so too he comes to us in humility.”

Pope Francis prayed that nothing would “prevent us from finding in him the source of our joy, true joy, which abides and brings peace; for it is Jesus alone who saves us from the snares of sin, death, fear and sadness.”

On the cross, at the height of his humiliation, Jesus reveals God’s identity as the God of mercy, Pope Francis said, adding that the cross is God’s “cathedra,” the place from which he teaches people all they need to know about him.

“He forgives those who are crucifying him, he opens the gates of paradise to the repentant thief and he touches the heart of the centurion,” he said.

Jesus’ life and death, the pope said, was a story of how, out of love, he “emptied and humbled” himself to save humanity.

In Holy Week, he said, the first sign of Jesus’ endless love is the scene of him washing the disciples’ feet, “as only servants would have done.”

“He shows us by example that we need to allow his love to reach us, a love which bends down to us,” Pope Francis said. People must accept Jesus’ love, experience his tenderness and give witness to the fact that “true love consists in concrete service.”

“Hanging from the wood of the cross,” the pope said, Jesus faced his last temptation, which was to come down from the cross, “to conquer evil by might and to show the face of a powerful and invincible God.”

Instead, Jesus “takes upon himself all our pain that he may redeem it, bringing light to darkness, life to death, love to hatred,” the pope said.

 

Follow Wooden on Twitter @Cindy_Wooden

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Ignoring God, not glorifying him, leads to violence, pope says

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — It is the complete disregard for God, not his glorification, that leads to violence in this world, Pope Francis said.

That is why people of faith, particularly Christians and Muslims, must work together for peace, and governments must guarantee full religious freedom for their citizens and religious communities, he said Dec. 3 at his weekly general audience.

Pope Francis reaches to greet a young person during his general audience in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican Dec. 3. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Pope Francis reaches to greet a young person during his general audience in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican Dec. 3. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Just a few thousand people, huddled under umbrellas and plastic ponchos, gathered in St. Peter’s Square for a rainy Wednesday audience. Pope Francis told them they were courageous to venture out in such weather, and said with a smile that ugly days should be faced with beautiful faces.

The pope dedicated his general audience talk to a few of the highlights and hopes from his trip to Turkey Nov. 28-30.

The importance of religious freedom, he said, was the focus of the first day of the trip when he met with government authorities of the Muslim-majority nation with a constitution affirming the secular nature of the state.

With government leaders, he said, “we talked about violence and how it is precisely forgetting about God, not his glorification, that generates violence.

“That is why I insisted on the importance of Christians and Muslims working together for solidarity, peace and justice, underlining how every nation must guarantee citizens and religious communities real freedom of worship,” he said.

Before the general audience in St. Peter’s Square, Pope Francis told the crowd, he met with people taking part in the Third Christian-Muslim Summit, hosted this year by the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue. Participants, he said, expressed the same desire that Catholics, other Christians and Muslims continue working in “fraternal dialogue.”

“Dialogue is the path of peace,” he told them, according to a Vatican statement.

Prayer, on the other hand, is the foundation and path of Christian unity, the pope said in his audience talk, adding that ecumenism was another major focus of the trip.

Mass in Istanbul’s Cathedral of the Holy Spirit brought together Syrian, Armenian and Chaldean Catholics, as well as members of the Latin-rite church. A number of Orthodox dignitaries also attended the Mass, including Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople, as well as representatives of Istanbul’s Protestant communities.

“Together we invoked the Holy Spirit, who is the one who brings unity to the church, unity in faith, unity in charity” and unity within hearts, he said.

Unity among Christians and unity within the Catholic Church both depend on the Holy Spirit who does everything, he said. “It is up to us to let him work, embrace him and follow his inspiration.”

Pope Francis said it was “particularly significant” that after praying together at a liturgy for the feast of St. Andrew, he and Patriarch Bartholomew signed a joint declaration to continue working toward full communion between Catholics and Orthodox.

The feast day was an ideal occasion to “strengthen the fraternal ties between the bishop of Rome, the successor of Peter” and the patriarch, whose church was founded upon the tradition of the apostle Andrew, Peter’s brother.

The pope also told people at the audience that “it was very important for me to meet refugees from war zones in the Middle East,” adding that the encounter was “beautiful and also heartbreaking.”

He thanked Turkey for welcoming so many victims of war and conflict into its country and he thanked those religious communities working to help them.

“I thank all people who work on behalf of refugees so much. Let us pray for all displaced people and refugees and that the causes of this painful scourge be removed.”

The pope asked that God help the people of Turkey continue to “build together a future of peace so that Turkey can represent a land of peaceful coexistence among different religions and cultures.”

He also prayed that his trip reap many fruits and foster a greater missionary spirit in the church so that she “proclaim to all people in respect and fraternal dialogue that the Lord Jesus is the truth, peace and love. That only he is the Lord.”

The text of the pope’s audience remarks in English is available online at www.vatican.va/holy_father/francesco/audiences/2014/documents/papa-francesco_20141203_udienza-generale_en.html.

The text of the pope’s audience remarks in Spanish is available online at www.vatican.va/holy_father/francesco/audiences/2014/documents/papa-francesco_20141203_udienza-generale_sp.html.

 

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Some see unity vision reignited by pope, patriarch’s gestures in Turkey

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Catholic News Service

After watching firsthand as Pope Francis bowed his head for a blessing from Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew during the pope’s Nov. 28-30 trip to Turkey, an American-born Orthodox priest felt a joyful disbelief.

Pope Francis and Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople greet a small crowd after delivering a blessing in Istanbul Nov. 30. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Pope Francis and Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople greet a small crowd after delivering a blessing in Istanbul Nov. 30. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

“I couldn’t sleep that night,” said Orthodox Father Emmanuel Lemelson, an American priest of the Ecumenical Patriarchate who was part of the official Orthodox delegation during the papal visit to Turkey.

Father Lemelson, who holds a bachelor’s degree in theology and religious studies from the Jesuit-run Seattle University and master’s of divinity from Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology, said that, as a young man, he fostered a vision that Catholics and Orthodox Christians would soon be reunited.

“Suddenly that vision has been reignited. I believe that Pope Francis is truly a great leader and has shown great humility, and that he is not afraid,” Father Lemelson said, adding that he thought the ecumenical meeting in Turkey was a sign of greater things to come, of more meetings and of moving things forward in the right direction.

The Catholic and Orthodox churches split in 1054 over differences on the primacy of the papacy. The two churches have grown closer together in recent decades, but there are long-running tensions in Russia and Ukraine, especially between Orthodox faithful and Eastern Catholics, along with some internal resistance to ecumenical dialogue, especially among the Orthodox.

Before leaving Turkey, Pope Francis said he is ready to go anywhere, anytime to meet with the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, even while acknowledging that Catholic and Orthodox theologians might be slow to agree to end the 1,000-year schism.

Father Lemelson speculated that the dwindling presence of Christians in Turkey and the Middle East, along with the persecution of Christianity in Turkey and elsewhere, is a cause for hastening the ecumenical dialogue and efforts toward greater unity.

Turkey is now 99.8 percent Muslim. Just across the border from Turkey, in Syria and Iraq, Christian minorities are being slaughtered or driven from their homes by militants of the Islamic State.

“I think this comes at a critical moment in history; this sign of unity is important to all Christians to put their nominal differences aside,” Father Lemelson said. “I really believe, based on Pope Francis’ statements and actions, that he has the proclivity and openness to seeking unity.”

Father Lemelson noted Pope Francis’ comment that ecumenical unity would not necessarily mean the Orthodox would have to accept conditions to that unity, except the shared profession of faith.

“Maybe it is because this church in Constantinople, in a region where there is incredible violence and where the church has shrunk (in numbers), it is not inconceivable that the See might have to leave Istanbul. And makes you wonder if there is a silver lining in this unfortunate suffering, this ecumenism in blood.

“To pick up now where we left off in the 12th century, when Eastern Christendom was under attack, and now when there is a new Ottomanism, maybe something good will come from all this new suffering. If Christians come together now that would an extraordinary thing to witness in our lifetime,” he said.

Paulist Father Ronald G. Roberson, associate director of the U.S. bishops’ Secretariat for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs, said the meeting between Pope Francis and Patriarch Bartholomew is part of a long tradition of exchanges of visits, and there was nothing necessarily earth-shattering about an exchange of delegations in and of itself.

But the energetic nature of the papal encounter in Turkey gives the world reason to believe there is renewed energy in ecumenical dialogue at the highest levels, said Father Roberson, who staffs dialogues on the national level with the Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, Polish National Catholic and Episcopal Churches, as well as the new ecumenical initiative, Christian Churches Together in the USA.

He is also a Catholic member of the international dialogue between the Catholic Church and the Oriental Orthodox churches.

“In terms of the images there, a lot was done that showed a unity of purpose, conversation about the need to work together on the issue of Christian persecution, and the way the two embraced and looked at ease with each other recommits both churches to the dialogue and overcoming our difference,” Father Roberson said.

The international dialogue itself has gotten bogged down on the contentious issue of church primacy, Father Roberson noted, and while members will not meet again for another three years, the signing of a joint declaration in Turkey “gave a general push for Catholics and Orthodox to do more things together and make a common witness not only in the Middle East but in other parts of the world,” he added.

Still, there are items from the encounter in Turkey that need to be parsed through, Father Roberson noted, including the full implications of Pope Francis’ comment that Catholic Church does not intend to impose conditions on unity other than a profession of faith.

“I am not quite sure what that means, and it is a little bit vague and will need to be made more concrete. What he means by unity of the faith goes to the heart of the question,” the priest said.

He added that the leadership of the Greek Orthodox Church in the U.S. enthusiastically followed the meetings and posted texts and related information on its website.

The Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, headquartered in New York City, is an eparchy of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople

“They have put a lot of effort into that and were making the meetings more visible,” Father Roberson said.

Father Lemelson said Pope Francis’ final gesture in Turkey was a brilliant stroke.

“He immediately extended himself to the Russian Orthodox Church, saying he wants this unity, and although relations between Moscow and the Vatican have remained cold … if anyone can overcome that, Pope Francis can,” he said.

“What a beautiful move and I think it will happen, and I don’t think the (Russian Orthodox) patriarch will turn down that invitation,” he said.

 

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Pope, Turkish leaders trade concerns about religious discrimination against Christians and Muslims

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Catholic News Service ANKARA, Turkey — Interreligious dialogue dominated Pope Francis’ first day in Turkey, with the pope and Turkish leaders frankly stating their concerns, respectively, about discrimination against Christians in the Middle East and against Muslims in the West. “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 Nov. 28 in a speech to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and other officials at the presidential palace.

Pope Francis prays with Istanbul's grand mufti Rahmi Yaran during a visit to the Sultan Ahmed Mosque, also known as the Blue Mosque, in Istanbul Nov. 29. (CNS photo/L'Osservatore Romano via Reuters)

Pope Francis prays with Istanbul’s grand mufti Rahmi Yaran during a visit to the Sultan Ahmed Mosque, also known as the Blue Mosque, in Istanbul Nov. 29. (CNS photo/L’Osservatore Romano via Reuters)

“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 pope said, adding that commitment to such freedoms is essential to countering “fanaticism and fundamentalism, as well as irrational fears which foster misunderstanding and discrimination.” Turkey’s secularist constitution guarantees freedom of religion, but Pope Francis’ call for equality “both in the provision and practice of the law” seemed to allude to persistent de facto discrimination against non-Muslims. Members of the country’s minuscule Christian community, less than 0.2 percent of a total of 76 million, are still commonly regarded as foreigners by the Muslim-majority population, and authorities have kept the country’s only Greek Orthodox seminary closed since 1971. Speaking prior to the pope, Erdogan raised the issue of prejudice and intolerance against Muslims in other countries, stating that “Islamophobia is a serious and rapidly rising problem in the West” and lamenting that “attempts to identify Islam with terrorism hurt millions.” The pope heard similar complaints later in the afternoon during a visit to Turkey’s Presidency of Religious Affairs, called the Diyanet, a large and well-funded government agency that oversees Muslim worship and Muslim education in the country. The Diyanet’s president, Mehmet Gormez, decried what he called the “dissemination of terror scenarios by the global media through anti-Muslim expressions, which is a form of racism and which has now turned into a crime of hatred.” In September, Gormez complained that Pope Francis had not done enough to combat “violence and discrimination” against Muslims in the West, which he said could not be accomplished “by such things as washing a young girl’s feet or arranging interreligious soccer games,” references to two of the pope’s most prominent gestures toward interreligious harmony. The pope did not speak about discrimination against Muslims to either of the audiences he addressed on his first day in Turkey. Like Erdogan and Gormez, Pope Francis criticized the use of religion to justify violence, particularly in the neighboring countries of Syria and Iraq. Pope Francis focused on the plight of Christian minorities targeted by Islamic State militants there. “Prisoners and entire ethnic populations are experiencing the violation of the most basic humanitarian laws. Grave persecutions have taken place in the past and still continue today to the detriment of minorities, especially, though not only, Christians and Yezidis. Hundreds of thousands of persons have been forced to abandon their homes and countries in order to survive and remain faithful to their religious beliefs,” the pope said. The pope also reaffirmed his qualified support for the use of military force to stop the Islamic State. While he noted that the “problem cannot be resolved solely through a military response,” the pope repeated his stated position that “it is licit, while always respecting international law, to stop an unjust aggressor” such as the Islamic State. The pope did not repeat the qualification, which he had stressed to reporters on two previous occasions, that such military action should be undertaken by a coalition and not any single national government. Though Turkey has condemned terrorism by the Islamic State, the government has proven a somewhat ambivalent member of the U.S.-led coalition against the militants, among other reasons, because of the Turkey’s opposition to the Syrian President Bashar Assad regime, which is fighting the Islamic State. Erdogan harshly denounced Assad in his speech to the pope. Turkey has accepted a vast number of refugees from the wars, as many as 1.6 million from Syria alone. Pope Francis acknowledged this twice, first in remarks to reporters accompanying him on the flight from Rome, then in the speech at the presidential palace, where he said that the “international community has a moral obligation to assist Turkey in taking care of these refugees.” The pope was the first official guest at Ankara’s new presidential place, which has 1,000 rooms, occupies more than 1.6 million square feet and cost a reported $615 million. It is a built in a style that has been described as “neo-Seljuk,” recalling the architecture of a dynasty that ruled from the 11th to the 13th centuries. The pope was greeted by a 21-gun salute and an honor guard of dozens of soldiers, many of them on horseback. He approached the palace along a turquoise-colored carpet, stopping to give the soldiers a traditional greeting in Turkish. Earlier in the afternoon, shortly after arriving at Ankara’s international airport, the pope followed protocol for visiting heads of state by visiting the mausoleum of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, founder of the Republic of Turkey. The pope entered the monumental structure, reminiscent of an ancient Greek temple, and laid a wreath at Ataturk’s cenotaph, a 40-ton block of marble marking the leader’s burial place below.

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