Pope Francis is on a three-day visit of Turkey where he aims to promote religious dialogue between Muslims and Catholics. Turkey has a population of 80 million people. One hundred and twenty thousands are Christians while the rest are Muslims.
On his first day in the country, Pope Francis visited President Tayyip Erdogan’s mansion, from where he condemned the Islamic State of Syrian and Iraq (ISIS) for assaulting religious minorities in the region. He asked Muslim leaders to help bring the assaults to an end. He said he supported the use of military force to stop the group’s expansion. He called for dialogue between different religions so as to eliminate religious fundamentalism.
Turkey is currently struggling to find the best way to deal with ISIS. The U.S wants it to take a more aggressive role while Turkey wants the United States and other coalition partners to provide a no-fly zone for the moderate Syrian opposition to attack Assad’s forces. He also wants the coalition to help remove Assad from power.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan told the Pope that the misinterpretation of the Muslim faith in the west was fanning the expansion of militancy in the Middle East. He said that when people felt abandoned, defeated, wronged, and oppressed, they became targets for extremist recruiters. He hoped the visit by Pope Francis to Turkey will promote dialogue between different religious communities in the country, which include Muslims and Christians.
Turkey was founded in 1923 as a secular nation. It gradually embraced religion over the years, ending up with a Muslim majority that has put pressure on the government to overlook other religions. The pressure led to the closure of the Haiki Orthodox Christian School near Istanbul in 1971. Prior to his visit to Turkey, Francis told an Israeli newspaper that Christians were being persecuted in the region more than ever before.
Pope Francis also plans to visit the Sultan Ahmed mosque in Istanbul, which has been in existence since the 17th century. He will also meet with Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew 1, the head of Orthodox Christians.
Francis’ tour marks the fourth visit to the country by a Catholic Pope. However, Turkey and the Vatican are connected by an event that almost turned tragic. In 1981 Turkish citizen Mehmet Ali Agca shot and injured Pope John Paul II at St Peter’s Square. He spent 19 years in prison for the attempted assassination.
Police investigating the incident found a letter in Agca’s pocket that said that he had killed the Pope so as to make the world aware of the many victims of imperialism. An official inquiry into assassination attempt blamed Soviet-sponsored assassins who wanted to kill Pope John Paul 11 for supporting Poland’s Democracy Movement Solidarity group. However, General Wojciech Jaruzelski, the former Polish communist leader who died this year, said the assassination was sponsored by Islamic fanatics. He told Jezus Catholic magazine in 2011 that radical Islamists disliked the Pope for being the leader of crusades.
The Daily Mail reported that Mehmet Ali Agca sent a letter to the Vatican requesting to meet Pope Francis. Agca told the newspaper that he has yet to receive a response from the Vatican. It is not clear if Pope Francis, who is in Turkey to promote religious dialogue, will accept Agca’s request.
By Benedicto Ateku