Pope Francis: Muslim leaders should condemn terrorism

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Pope Francis and Patriarch Bartholomew I signed a pledge to support Christians in the Middle East

Pope Francis has urged Muslim leaders around the world to condemn terrorism carried out in the name of Islam.

Speaking on board a flight back to Rome, the Pope said that he understood the harm caused by the stereotype that linked Islam with terrorism.

He said a “global condemnation” of the violence would help the majority of Muslims dispel this stereotype.

Pope Francis was returning from a three-day visit to Turkey, where he discussed divisions between faiths.

The pontiff denounced people who say that “all Muslims are terrorists”.

“As we cannot say that all Christians are fundamentalists,” he said.

In Istanbul, Pope Francis called for an end to the persecution of Christians in the Middle East.

In a joint declaration, the Pope and Patriarch Bartholomew I said they could not resign themselves to a “Middle East without Christians”.

Patriarch Bartholomew is the spiritual leader of the world’s 250 million Orthodox Christians, whose Church broke with Rome in 1054 in a schism that divided the Christian world.

Constantinople, as the modern Turkish city of Istanbul was once known, was the centre of Orthodox Christianity until the Ottoman conquest in 1453.

Only around 120,000 Christians remain in Turkey, where the vast majority of the 80 million citizens are Muslims.

Pope Francis also called for dialogue with Muslims to counter fanaticism and fundamentalism when he visited the Turkish capital, Ankara.

‘Indifference of many’

Pope Francis flanked by Vatican spokesman father Federico Lombardi talks to journalists during a press conference aboard the flight towards Rome Pope Francis was returning to Rome after his three-day visit to Turkey when he made his latest comments

Christians have been targeted by Muslim hardliners in Iraq and Syria in recent years, with a violent campaign of persecution by Islamic State militants this summer when they captured the Iraqi city of Mosul.

In their joint declaration, the two Church leaders said: “We express our common concern for the current situation in Iraq, Syria and the whole Middle East.

“Many of our brothers and sisters are being persecuted and have been forced violently from their homes. It even seems that the value of human life has been lost, that the human person no longer matters and may be sacrificed to other interests. And, tragically, all this is met by the indifference of many.”

The pontiff and the patriarch also called for peace in Ukraine.

The violent conflict in Ukraine this year has accentuated differences between its large Orthodox and Catholic communities.

The Pope and the patriarch said: “We pray for peace in Ukraine, a country of ancient Christian tradition, while we call upon all parties involved to pursue the path of dialogue and of respect for international law in order to bring an end to the conflict and allow all Ukrainians to live in harmony.”

As his visit drew to a close, Pope Francis met Turkey’s chief rabbi, whose flock has diminished to just 17,000 people.

At the Blue Mosque on Saturday, one of the greatest masterpieces of Ottoman architecture, the Pope turned east towards Mecca, clasped his hands and paused for two minutes as the Grand Mufti of Istanbul, Rahmi Yaran, delivered a Muslim prayer.

The Pope then visited Hagia Sofia – which for almost 1,000 years was the most important Orthodox cathedral, then for nearly five centuries a mosque under the Ottomans, and is currently a museum.

For Istanbul, a city that passed from the Byzantines to the Ottomans, a place where religions, empires and cultures collided, the Pope’s message of interfaith dialogue has profound resonance, says the BBC’s Mark Lowen in Istanbul.

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Pope Francis to visit Turkey in most challenging mission of papacy so far

Pontiff to try to tackle relations with Islam, Christian persecution in the Muslim world and the Catholic-Orthodox schism

Pope Francis embarks on one of the most delicate missions of his 18-month-old papacy on Friday, when he is expected to wrestle with the problems of Christian persecution in the Muslim world and tackle relations with Islam in a time of spreading jihadism during his visit to Turkey.

As if that were not enough, he is also expected to deal with the millenium-old schism between Catholicism and Orthodoxy that centred on the city that is now Istanbul.

The fourth pope to visit Turkey, Francis will seek to emphasise his commitment to dialogue with Muslims and other Christians at a time of increased violence against Christian minorities in the region.

He is to make what his spokesman, Father Federico Lombardi, described as a very important speech on Muslim-Christian relations on Friday.

While in Ankara, the 77-year-old Argentinian pontiff is also due to visit Turkey’s directorate for religious affairs, or Diyanet, and meet Mehmet Görmez, the country’s most senior cleric. Görmez said he wanted to raise the problem of Islamophobia in his talks with the pope.

“Horrible things are happening everywhere in the Islamic world,” he told Deutsche Welle radio.

“These incidents have negatively affected Muslims not only [in the region], but also in Europe. While all these painful events are unfolding, there are those that argue that the source of these problems is Islam, which leads to injustices being committed against Islam

“We will have to work closely together with the pope on this,” he said.

Francis will also walk straight into another controversy when he visits the Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s new palace built on once-protected farm and and forest in Ankara. He will the first foreign dignitary to be hosted at the lavish, 1,000-room complex.

The palace, which dwarfs the White House and other European government palaces, cost of £394m. It has drawn the ire of opposition parties, environmentalists, human rights activists and architects who say it is too extravagant, has damaged the environment and was built despite a court injunction against it.

Erdoğan brazenly dismissed the court ruling. “Let them knock it down if they have the power,” he said.

The Ankara branch of the Turkish Chamber of Architects sent a letter to the pope this month, urging him not to attend his welcoming ceremony on Friday at the “illegal” palace.

A spokesman for the pope brushed off the request. The Turkish government had invited Francis to visit and he would go where the Turkish government wished to receive him, he said.

Among the questions hanging over the trip is whether Francis will pray alongside his Muslim hosts when he visits Istanbul’s Sultan Ahmet mosque in Istanbul also known as the Blue Mosque on Saturday.

His predecessor, Pope Benedict, appalled many traditional Catholics when he appeared to do so on his visit to Turkey eight years ago. The Vatican put out a statement saying Benedict had merely been in meditation, though he conceded that he “certainly turned his thoughts to God”.

Francis will be the fourth reigning pope to visit Turkey, and his comes at an intensely sensitive moment for the dwindling Christian communities of the Middle East. Many of the Iraqi and Syrian Christians who have fled their homes to escape the spread of Islamic State (Isis)are currently living as refugees in Turkey.

On Tuesday, Francis appeared to reach out for dialogue with Isis. “I never count anything as lost. Never. Never close the door. It’s difficult, you could say almost impossible, but the door is always open,” he said.

From the Vatican’s standpoint, another important aspect of the visit will be the opportunity to consolidate the papacy’s good relations with the ecumenical patriarch, Bartholomew I, the pre-eminent spiritual leader of the world’s 300 million Orthodox Christians. Francis’s stay in Turkey will coincide with the feast of St Andrew, whose significance for the Orthodox church is similar to that of St Peter for Catholics.

More than five centuries after Greek Christian Constantinople fell to Muslim Turks, the ecumenical patriarch and his aides still live in the city that is now Istanbul. Bartholomew attended Francis’s investiture last year, the first ecumenical patriarch to attend such a ceremony in Rome since the two churches split almost 1,000 years ago.

The pope shares close personal ties with Bartholomew I, who is to receive him at the patriarchate, also known as the Phanar, on Saturday. The following day, which is the feast of St Andrew, the pope is due to attend an Orthodox liturgy before the two men have lunch together.

“We are eagerly awaiting the visit of our brother, Pope Francis,” Bartholomew I said in a press release. “It will be yet another significant step in our positive relations as sister churches.”

Bartholomew I may generally be seen as conciliatory towards the Vatican, but the de facto leaders of the Orthodox church in Moscow are much warier and more hostile.

Interfaith dialogue has not always been easy in Turkey, a country with a 99% Muslim population, but many Christians say things have improved under the government of the Islamic Justice and Development party (AKP).

Erdoğan’s administration has shown partial support for the country’s Christian minorities. A law was passed last year to return property confiscated by the Turkish state to its owners and allow Christian religious classes in schools.

Dr Elpidophoros Lambriniadis, the metropolitan of Bursa and abbot of the Holy Trinity monastery on Halki, the second largest of the nine Princes’ Islands off the coast of Istanbul, is the former main secretary of the patriarchate. He said the last papal visit was overshadowed by the reluctance of his Turkish hosts.

“The Turks tried to put obstacles in our way wherever they could,” he said. “The AKP government still had to face the power of the secularists and the military then, and they were not pleased with the visit of the pope. This time there are no problems at all.”

His main grievance, and that of Orthodox Christians everywhere, is that the theological seminary housed in the monastery grounds since 1844 remains closed after the Turkish government banned all private higher education institutions in 1971. Erdoğan has previously said that no legal obstacles remain to the reopening of the school.

“Can there be a better place to educate true ecumenical staff open to interfaith dialogue than this school?” asked Lambriniadis, who is the first head of the school unable to graduate from it. “This is a theological school in a Muslim country from where high church officials graduate to be sent everywhere in the world. We can educate the kind of religious scholars that we so desperately need today.”

Man who shot John Paul II requests meeting with Pope Francis

Mehmet Ali Ağca wrote to the Vatican to welcome the pope to Turkey when he visits the country for the first time later in November

  • AFP in Istanbul
 Mehmet Ali Agca
The man who tried to kill Pope John Paul II, Mehmet Ali Agca, is surrounded by journalists as he leaves his car in Ankara on 18 January 2010.Photograph: Umit Bektas/Reuters

The Turkish man who attempted to assassinate Pope John Paul II more than three decades ago has asked the Vatican for permission to meet Pope Francis when he visits Turkey next week, local media reported on Wednesday.

The pope is due to visit Turkey for the first time from 28-30 November, during which time he will meet President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu.

In a statement published by Turkish media, Mehmet Ali Ağca requested a meeting with Pope Francis. “Pope Francis, who seeks to boost peace and brotherhood at a time the world is going through a political, economic and humanitarian crisis, is welcome to Turkey,” Ağca said.

“I am Mehmet Ali Ağca and I would like to meet the pope during this visit,” the statement said, accompanied by a photo of Pope John Paul II visiting Ağca in a Rome prison in 1983 to forgive his attacker.

John Paul II nearly died in the assassination attempt in 1981 when Ağca shot him at close range in St Peter’s Square. One bullet went through his abdomen and another narrowly missed his heart.

The motive for the attack, which landed Ağca in an Italian prison, remains a mystery.

Ağca, believed by many to be mentally disturbed, was released from a Turkish prison in 2010 after serving nearly three decades behind bars.

He was a 23-year-old militant of the notorious far-right Grey Wolves movement, on the run from Turkish justice, when he shot Pope John Paul II.

Extradited to Turkey in 2000 after Italy pardoned him, Ağca was convicted of the murder of prominent journalist Abdi Ipekci, two armed robberies and escaping from prison, crimes all dating back to the 1970s.

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Taken from: http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/nov/19/mehmet-ali-agca-shot-john-paul-ii-requests-meeting-with-pope-francis