Pope and President of Turkey Discuss Middle East at First Vatican Meeting

This was the second meeting between the two leaders and the first time a Turkish president has visited a pope in 59 years.

Pope Francis with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey in Vatican City Feb. 5.
Pope Francis with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey in Vatican City Feb. 5. (photo: Vatican Media)

VATICAN CITY — On Monday, Pope Francis and the president of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, met at the Vatican, discussing the situation in the Middle East. In particular, they spoke of the status of Jerusalem and the need for peace and stability in the region.

According to a Feb. 5 Vatican statement, the “cordial discussions,” which lasted around 50 minutes, highlighted “the need to promote peace and stability in the [Middle East] through dialogue and negotiation, with respect for human rights and international law.”

The two also discussed the bilateral relations between Turkey and the Holy See and the condition of the Catholic community in the country, as well as the challenges of receiving refugees and the efforts being made in this regard, the communiqué stated.

This was the second meeting between the two leaders and the first time a Turkish president has visited a pope in 59 years. The first meeting between Francis and Erdogan was Nov. 28, 2014, during the Pope’s three-day visit to Ankara and Istanbul, Turkey.

Near the end of their meeting, the Pope gifted Erdogan with a small medallion, depicting an angel of peace choking a demon of war, and told Erdogan that it is the symbol of a world based on peace and justice.

He also gave the president an etching of St. Peter’s Basilica, depicting the basilica as it looked in the 1600s, as well as the customary gift of copies of his environmental encyclical Laudato Si and his message for the World Day of Peace 2018.

Erdogan gave the Pope a large image made of hand-painted tiles, depicting a panoramic view of Istanbul, including the Hagia Sophia and the historic Sultan Ahmet Mosque, also known as the “Blue Mosque.” Seeing the painting, Francis said, “Beautiful, beautiful.”

He also gave the Pope four books by Rumi Mevlana, an Iranian theologian who lived with dervishes in Turkey for many years, along with a copy of the Masnavi, which is a poem written by the Persian Sufi poet Rumi, and also two books about the poet's life.

There were around 20 people in Erdogan’s delegation, including his wife and son and his son-in-law, Turkey’s minister of energy. At the end of the meeting, Pope Francis accompanied the first lady to the door. Francis asked her to “Pray for me,” to which Erdogan said, “We, too, expect a prayer from you.”

Afterward, Erdogan met with Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin and Archbishop Paul Richard Gallagher, secretary for relations with states.

Kurdish demonstrators in Rome protested the meeting because of Turkey’s military offensive on Kurdish areas in northern Syria, which began last month.

When Erdogan left the Vatican, protesters tried to make their way into St. Peter’s Square, but were stopped by riot police, and at least one person was injured in the altercation.

Demonstrators had also tried to enter St. Peter’s Square Sunday, but were blocked by police. And 150 protesters also set up Monday near Rome’s Castel Sant’Angelo, a monument close to the Vatican, holding Turkish Workers’ Party (PKK) flags.

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