Register Summary

Pope Benedict XVI held his Dec. 6 general audience in two locations. He met first with pilgrims from around Italy in St. Peter’s Basilica and then met with pilgrims from other parts of the world in the Paul VI Hall. During his principal message, he recalled his apostolic journey to Turkey from Nov. 28 to Dec. 1.

He concluded his reflections on the trip by calling upon the Lord to help Turkey to be a bridge of friendship and collaboration between East and West.

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

As it is now the custom after each apostolic trip, I would like to review the various stages of the pilgrimage I made to Turkey from Nov. 28 to Dec. 1 during this general audience. As you know, the trip was not easy for various reasons, but God was present from the very beginning and, because of this, it took place without incident. Therefore, just as I had requested prayer in preparation for and throughout the trip, I now ask you to join with me in thanking the Lord for its course and conclusion. I entrust to him the fruits that I hope will result from it as regards our relationship with our Orthodox brothers as well as our dialogue with the Muslims.

First of all, I feel obliged to express once again my sincere gratitude to the president of the republic, to the prime minister, and to the other authorities, who welcomed me with so much courtesy and ensured the necessary conditions so that everything might take place in the best conditions. I offer my fraternal gratitude to the bishops of the Catholic Church in Turkey and to their fellow workers for everything they did.

I am especially grateful to the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I, who welcomed me in his home, to the Armenian Patriarch Mesrob II, to Syro-Orthodox Metropolitan Mor Filuksinos and to the other religious authorities. Throughout the trip, I experienced the spiritual support of my venerable predecessors, the Servants of God Paul VI and John Paul II, who both made memorable visits to Turkey, and especially of Blessed John XXIII, who was the papal representative to that noble country from 1935 to 1944, leaving a rich memory of love and devotion.

Symbol of a Challenge

Going back to the vision that the Second Vatican Council presents of the Church (see Lumen Gentium 14-16), I might say that the Pope’s pastoral trips also contribute to the accomplishment of his mission, which is divided into “concentric circles.” In the innermost circle, the Successor of Peter confirms the Catholic faithful in the faith; in the intermediate circle, he meets with other Christians; and in the outermost circle he addresses non-Christians and all of mankind.

The first day of my visit to Turkey took place within this third “circle,” which is the largest. I met with the prime minister, the president of the republic, and the president for religious affairs, to whom I addressed my first speech. I paid my respects at the tomb of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, who is the “father of the homeland.” Afterwards, I was able to address the diplomatic corps at the apostolic nunciature in Ankara.

This intense series of meetings was an important part of my visit, especially in light of the fact that Turkey is a predominantly Muslim country governed by a constitution that affirms its secular nature. Consequently, the country is symbolic of the great challenge facing the world today. On one hand, there is a need to rediscover the reality of God and the public relevance of religious faith. On the other hand, there is a need to guarantee that the expression of that faith is free, capable of firmly repudiating all forms of violence and not degenerating into fundamentalism.

Therefore, I had a very good opportunity to express once again my esteem for the Muslims and for Islamic civilization. At the same time, I was able to insist on how important it is for Christians and Muslims to work together for mankind, for life, and for peace and justice, reiterating that the distinction between the civil and religious spheres constitutes a value and that the state must guarantee effective freedom of worship to its citizens and to its religious communities.

In terms of interreligious dialogue, God in his providence allowed me to carry out — almost at the end of my trip — a gesture that had not been foreseen at first and that proved to be extremely significant: a visit to the Blue Mosque in Istanbul. Pausing in quiet meditation for a few minutes in that place of prayer, I turned to the one and only Lord of heaven and earth, the merciful Father of all of mankind. May all believers recognize themselves as his creatures and give witness to true brotherhood!

‘Mary’s House’

The second day took me to Ephesus, and I rapidly found myself, therefore, within the innermost “circle” of the trip, in direct contact with the Catholic community. Indeed, there is a pleasant place in Ephesus called the “Nightingale’s Hill” that overlooks the Aegean Sea, where the Shrine of Mary’s House is located. It is an ancient and small chapel around a little house that, according to a very ancient tradition, the apostle John built for the Virgin Mary after accompanying her to Ephesus. Jesus himself had entrusted them to each another when, before dying on the cross, he said to Mary, “Woman, behold, your son,” and to John, “Behold, your mother!” (see John 19:26-27).

Archaeological investigations have demonstrated that this place has been a place of Marian devotion from time immemorial and it is also much-loved by the Muslims, who go there regularly to venerate her whom they call Meryem Ana, Mother Mary. In the garden next to the shrine, I celebrated holy Mass for a group of faithful who had come from the nearby city of Izmir, from other parts of Turkey, and from abroad. We felt truly “at home” in “Mary’s House,” and, in an atmosphere of peace, we prayed for peace in the Holy Land and throughout the world.

There I remembered Father Andrea Santoro, a Roman Catholic priest, who gave witness to the Gospel on Turkish soil with his blood.

Ecumenical Celebration

The intermediate “circle” of ecumenical relations occupied the central part of my trip, taking place on Nov. 30, the feast of St. Andrew. This celebration was the ideal context to strengthen a brotherly relationship between the Bishop of Rome, Successor of Peter, and the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, a Church founded according to tradition by the Apostle St. Andrew, the brother of Simon Peter. Following in the footsteps of Paul VI, who met with Patriarch Athenagoras, and of John Paul II, who was welcomed by Athenagoras’ successor, Dimitrios I, I renewed this gesture of great symbolic value with His Holiness Bartholomew I in order to confirm our mutual commitment to continue on the path toward the re-establishment of full communion between Catholics and Orthodox.

To ratify this firm intention, the ecumenical patriarch and I signed a joint declaration that constitutes a further stage on this path. It was particularly significant that this act took place at the end of the solemn liturgy of the feast of St. Andrew, which I attended and which concluded with the double blessing of the Bishop of Rome and the Patriarch of Constantinople, the successors of the Apostles Peter and Andrew respectively.

In this way, we manifested that prayer and perseverance in calling upon the Holy Spirit are always at the foundation of every ecumenical effort. Along these same lines, I had the joy of visiting in Istanbul the patriarch of the Armenian Apostolic Church, His Beatitude Mesrob II, and of meeting the Syro-Orthodox metropolitan. In this regard, I also remember with pleasure the conversation I had with the grand rabbi of Turkey.

Renewal of Pentecost

Before returning to Rome, I ended my visit by returning to the innermost “circle” and meeting with the Catholic community, represented by all its members in the Latin Cathedral of the Holy Spirit in Istanbul. The ecumenical patriarch, the Armenian patriarch, the Syro-Orthodox metropolitan and representatives of the Protestant churches all attended this Mass. In short, all of us Christians were gathered together in prayer, in the diversity of our traditions, rites and languages. Comforted by the Word of Christ, who promises believers “rivers of living water” (see John 7:38), and by the image of the many members united in one single body (see 1 Corinthians 12:12-13), we experienced a renewal of Pentecost.

My dear brothers and sisters, I have returned here, to the Vatican, with a spirit full of gratitude to God and with feelings of sincere affection and esteem for the inhabitants of that beloved nation of Turkey, where I felt welcomed and understood. The friendliness and warmth that surrounded me, in spite of the inevitable difficulties that my visit caused during the course of normal, daily activities, are vivid in my mind and inspire me to pray.

May God, almighty and merciful, help the Turkish people, their political leaders and the representatives of the various faiths build a future of peace together, so that Turkey may be a “bridge” of friendship and fraternal collaboration between West and East.

Let us pray, moreover, that through the intercession of Mary most holy, the Holy Spirit will make this apostolic trip fruitful and encourage the mission of the Church, instituted by Christ to proclaim to all peoples the Gospel of truth, peace and love throughout the entire world.

(Register translation)