By Elise Harris
Pope Francis spoke to Turkish authorities on Friday of the need to create a lasting peace – one based on a fraternal solidarity which respects human dignity and man’s essential right to religious freedom.
“Fanaticism and fundamentalism, as well as irrational fears which foster misunderstanding and discrimination, need to be countered by the solidarity of all believers,” the Pope told Turkish authorities on Nov. 28.
This solidarity, he said, “must rest on the following pillars: respect for human life and for religious freedom, that is the freedom to worship and to live according to the moral teachings of one’s religion (and) commitment to ensuring what each person requires for a dignified life.”
Currently the people and states of the Middle East are in grave need of this solidarity, the Pope observed, which has the ability to “reverse the trend” of war and violence, and promote a path of peace, dialogue, lawfulness and justice.
Pope Francis’ address to Turkish authorities came as the first public speech of his Nov. 28-30 apostolic voyage to the country. After his arrival the pontiff visited the well-known Ataturk Mausoleum and paid a courtesy visit to the republic’s president.
In his opening remarks to the authorities, the Bishop of Rome drew attention to the rich historical significance the country holds for Christianity, which is something that extends to the present day.
He expressed his joy at following in the footsteps of his 3 predecessors who visited Turkey before him, the latest being Benedict XVI in 2006, and voiced his hope that the trip would continue the dialogue initiated and carried on by each of them.
What is needed today, the Pope said, “is a dialogue which can deepen the understanding and appreciation of the many things which we hold in common” and teach us to learn from our differences.
The patient advancement in building a peace that will last is also needed, and ought to be founded on a respect for the fundamental rights and dignity of man so that fears and prejudice may be overcome, the Roman Pontiff continued.
It is therefore essential, he said, “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.”
By assuring the same rights to all regardless of their faith, each practice can more easily go beyond misunderstandings and see one another as brothers and sisters traveling along the same path.
“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,” he said, noting how the world, especially Europe and the Middle East, are waiting for this friendship.
The Middle East in particular has already been “a theater” of war for too long, the Pope observed, saying that with one war after the other, the only response to war and violence seem to be more acts of the same.
“How much longer must the Middle East suffer the consequences of this lack of peace? We must not resign ourselves to ongoing conflicts as if the situation can never change for the better! With the help of God, we can and we must renew the courage of peace!”
Pope Francis then urged Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan, whom he had met with shortly before, to make interreligious and intercultural dialogue an immediate goal so that terrorism, the exploitation of religion and every threat to human dignity would be eradicated.
“Sadly, to date, we are still witnessing grave conflict,” the pontiff noted, and spoke of the ongoing terrorist violence in Syria and Iraq, which shows “no signs of abating.”
Turkey, which has opened its doors to many refugees fleeing from the extremist attacks, is also greatly affected by the unrest at its boarders, he observed, and appealed the international community to fulfill their “moral obligation” in helping to care for all affected by the tragic situation.
In addition to offering assistance and humanitarian aid, the Roman Pontiff said that we cannot remain indifferent to the causes of such tragedies, and affirmed that “it is licit, while always respecting international law, to stop an unjust aggressor.”
However, the problem can’t be resolved solely by a military response, he said, and encouraged all to make great efforts in building a mutual trust which paves the way for a lasting peace.
The Pope concluded his address by invoking a heavenly blessing on Turkey, so that the nation would be “a strong and fervent peacemaker!”