At a special invitation only mass held in Istanbul, Pope Francis called for condemnation of Isis while insisting of more dialogs with those of the Muslim faith. The mass, held at the Church of the Holy Spirit, in the largely Muslim country, was attended by a small but passionate crowd of Catholics, who gave a rock star’s welcome to the leader of the Catholic Church.
The visit by the 77-year old Pontiff was seen as important step in bridge building as Turkey sits between both the east and continents of the west. Turkey is also a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), and is affected with conflicts on its north and south borders Iraq and Syria respectively. The situation in the region is extremely volatile as more than 1.6 million refugees are streaming into the country to escape the violence of the Islamic State who has taken control of parts of the region. The trip was also seen as a diplomatic mission, although, not an easy one as Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who attributes the rise of ISIS to the West, where Islam is rejected, and young men are influenced to become radical, has also been reported as being critical of what he terms as forces outside the world of Islam, that take advantage of the cheap labour and resources of the region while wanting them dead.
While calling on the leaders of the Muslim faith to condemn ISIS, Pope Francis was diplomatic in the mention of poverty being one of the major causes of the radicalization, but insisting that Muslims and Christian should work together, to combat much of the violence that spreads across the region, and to ensure that Christianity is maintained in its birthplace of the Middle East. He also reiterated that work should be done to erase the stereotype that relates Islam to terrorism, and emphasize that the Koran is a work that emphasizes love and peace.
The Pope Francis has been recognized as a bridge builder, and may have found a more sympathetic ear in the Patriarch Bartholomew, who leads the Eastern Orthodox Church. The pair jointly issued a condemnation of the violence that is perpetrated against Christians in the Middle East and called for constructive dialogue between Muslims and Christians. He also issued an appeal while meeting with more than 100 Syrian and Iraqi refugee children, expressing hope of peace, while offering consolation for the grief they have suffered. The outreach appears to have been appreciated, as the prayer, offered by Pope Francis in the Sultan Ahmet mosque was repeatedly replayed on Turkish television. The grand mufti, Rahmi Yaran, reciprocated with a statement hoping that the papal visit would encourage the world to get along and live in peace.
While calling for the condemnation of ISIS, Pope Francis was also careful to assure, both the Catholic and Orthodox faithful, that cooperation or unity does not mean or imply sacrifice or submission of liturgy, but can be the start to the end of a schism that has separated the religions for thousands of years.
By Dale Davidson