In Turkey, Pope warns against fundamentalism, as Erdoğan slams 'double-standards'
ANKARAPope Francis chose Turkey as a venue to call for an end to all forms of fundamentalism, noting that fighting hunger and poverty, rather than military intervention alone, were key to stopping fundamentalist militants carrying out “grave persecutions” in Syria and Iraq.
For his part, his host, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, used the occasion to express his disillusionment about the international response to the massacres in Syria and the coup in Egypt. Pope Francis hosted Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi just four days ago at the Vatican.
Speaking at the start of a three-day trip to Turkey that many are billing as an opportunity to increase dialogue between the Muslim and Christian worlds at a time of increased religious tension, Francis said Nov 28 “terrorist violence” showed no sign of abating in Turkey’s southern neighbors, where jihadist insurgents had declared a caliphate and persecuted Shiite Muslims, Christians, Yazidis and others who do not share their ultra-radical brand of Sunni Islam.
“It is licit, while always respecting international law, to stop an unjust aggressor,” the leader of the world’s 1.2 billion Roman Catholics said in reference to Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) militants after a meeting with Erdoğan.
“What is required is a concerted commitment on the part of all ... to enable resources to be directed, not to weaponry, but to the other noble battles worthy of man: the fight against hunger and sickness,” he said.
The president of Turkey, meanwhile, particularly cited the policies of the Syrian regime as well as the “terrorist activities” of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), describing international actions as “double-standards.”
“Military coups, massacres, rights violations and bloodshed in some countries are not reacted to appropriately by the world. In fact, they are almost encouraged,” Erdoğan said.
Slamming “xenophobia and racism in the West,” Erdoğan said “terror organizations like Da’esh [ISIL], Boko Haram and al-Qaeda are able to exploit people” due to policy failures.
Before the meeting with Erdoğan, Francis visited the tomb of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the founder of the Republic of Turkey.
Francis called for interreligious dialogue “so that there will be an end of all forms of fundamentalism and terrorism which gravely demean the dignity of every man and woman and exploit religion.”
Turkey has been a reluctant member of the U.S.-led coalition against ISIL, refusing a frontline military role but backing the Syrian opposition and calling for President Bashar al-Assad to be toppled.
Turkey is sheltering nearly 2 million refugees from Syria, including thousands of Christians. Turkey has seen its own Christian population dwindle over the past century, with decades of violence and economic and political pressure forcing most Christians to leave after World War I and the emergence of the post-Ottoman Turkish state.
“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,” Francis said.
Unscheduled moves and humbleness
Francis renounced the spacious papal apartments in the Vatican’s Apostolic Palace when he was made pontiff last year and lives instead in a much more modest guesthouse in the Vatican. Because he has been renowned for his humble lifestyle, there was controversy over the venue for his meeting with Erdoğan. He was the first foreign guest in the president’s overly extravagant new 1,000-room palace.
Francis, who generally prefers not to stay in hotels on foreign trips, was set to stay at the Vatican Embassy in Ankara before he proceeds to Istanbul.
The Vatican also reportedly asked Ankara to assign a modest “Ford Focus” model car for the pope’s use during his visit, but the Turkish authorities instead offered an official German armored state car that is in general use for Turkish protocol.
Some 900 media members have been accredited to cover Pope Francis’ visit to Turkey, 69 of whom have been traveling with him.
During his visit to Istanbul on Nov. 29-30, the pope will visit the Hagia Sophia Museum, originally built as an Eastern Orthodox cathedral in the sixth century before being converted into a mosque after the Ottoman conquest in 1453. It is now open to the public as a museum.
Francis will also visit the Blue Mosque and celebrate Mass at the Catholic Cathedral of the Holy Spirit.
The pope will later offer a prayer at the Orthodox Patriarchal Church of St. George, followed by a private meeting with Greek Orthodox Patriarch Bartholomew. The pope will celebrate a private Mass on Nov. 30, followed by a divine liturgy and the signing of a joint declaration with Bartholomew.
Bartholomew previously visited the Vatican for the inaugural mass of Francis, the first time in history that a Greek Orthodox patriarch had attended the installation of a pope.
“We are eagerly awaiting the visit of our brother, Pope Francis,” Bartholomew said ahead of the visit. “It will be yet another significant step in our positive relations as sister churches.”