ISTANBUL — Dialogue between religious leaders and the “shared recognition of the sanctity of each human life” in bringing aid to the suffering were at the core of Pope Francis’ Nov. 28 address to Turkey’s Department for Religious Affairs, delivered on the first day of his three-day apostolic journey to Turkey.
“Without this openness to encounter and dialogue, a papal visit would not fully correspond to its purposes,” the Holy Father said, noting the custom of a Pope to meet with the leaders and representatives of other religions whenever he visits another country.
The Department for Religious Affairs, or Diyanet, is the highest Sunni Muslim authority in Turkey. Pope Francis addressed the Diyanet on the first of his three days in Turkey. Upon his arrival, he was received Mehmet Gormez, the Diyanet’s president, with whom he held a private meeting before delivering his official address.
Recalling Benedict XVI’s 2006 visit to Turkey, he said the relations and dialogue between religious demonstrate “that mutual respect and friendship are possible, notwithstanding differences.”
“Such friendship, as well as being valuable in itself, becomes all the more meaningful and important in a time of crises such as our own, crises which in some parts of the world are disastrous for entire peoples.”
The Pope decried the death and destruction brought about by wars, including “inter-ethnic and interreligious tensions and conflicts, hunger and poverty afflicting hundreds of millions of people, [which also] inflict damage on the natural environment — air, water and land.”
Iraq and Syria
The Holy Father made particular mention of the crisis in the Middle East, most notably in Iraq and Syria. “Everyone suffers the consequences of these conflicts, and the humanitarian situation is unbearable,” he said. “I think of so many children, the sufferings of so many mothers, of the elderly, of those displaced and of all refugees, subject to every form of violence.”
Christians and Yazidis, among other minority groups, have been forced to “leave behind everything to save their lives and preserve their faith,” he said.
“As religious leaders, we are obliged to denounce all violations against human dignity and human rights,” Pope Francis continued. Because human life, as a gift from God, is sacred, “any violence which seeks religious justification warrants the strongest condemnation because the Omnipotent is the God of life and peace.”
“The world expects those who claim to adore God to be men and women of peace who are capable of living as brothers and sisters, regardless of ethnic, religious, cultural or ideological differences,” he said.
In addition to denouncing these violations against religious freedom, effort must be made to find “adequate solutions,” which requires the cooperation of “governments, political and religious leaders, representatives of civil society, and all men and women of goodwill.”
Muslims and Christians, he continued, can recognize the “shared elements” in their respective faiths, “such as the adoration of the All-Merciful God, reference to the Patriarch Abraham, prayer, almsgiving, fasting … elements which, when lived sincerely, can transform life and provide a sure foundation for dignity and fraternity.
Referring to Saint John Paul II’s 1979 address to the Catholic community in Ankara, Pope Francis stressed: “Recognizing and developing our common spiritual heritage — through interreligious dialogue — helps us to promote and to uphold moral values, peace and freedom in society.”
“The shared recognition of the sanctity of each human life is the basis of joint initiatives of solidarity, compassion, and effective help directed to those who suffer most.”
Pope Francis expressed his appreciation for the help Turkish Muslims and Christians have provided for the hundreds of thousands of people fleeing conflict areas. “This is a clear example of how we can work together to serve others, an example to be encouraged and maintained.”
Finally, the Holy Father noted the good relations between the Diyanet and the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue.
Said the Pope, “It is my earnest desire that these relations will continue and be strengthened for the good of all, so that every initiative which promotes authentic dialogue will offer a sign of hope to a world which so deeply needs peace, security and prosperity.”