We seek to keep you literally "updated" on movement in terms of truth and justice in the Middle East in general with a particular eye on Palestine. The links below will take you to various articles and websites that offer the perspective of leaders in the religious, NGO, and human rights communities. Additionally, Al-Bushra, ever vigilant, provides links to regular reporting as well as opinion pieces by journalists. The dates given here indicate when the link was posted; the most recent posting is at the top. Check the article itself for the date the information was released by the source.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Pope's visit could draw attention to refugees in Turkey

Rinaldo Marmara, president of Caritas Turkey. Credit: Daniel Ibanez/CNA.
Rinaldo Marmara, president of Caritas Turkey. Credit: Daniel Ibanez/CNA.
By Andrea Gagliarducci

.- The head of a charitable agency in Turkey voiced hope that Pope Francis’ visit will shine a light on the dramatic plight of refugees there, who fled the Syrian civil war and other regional conflicts.

“There are 1.7 million Syrian refugees in Turkey; in Istanbul alone, there are 700,000. When you walk around downtown Istanbul, there are plenty of poor kids who beg,” said Rinaldo Marmara, president of Caritas Turkey.

He voiced hope that the “Papal visit will focus the world on what we are living. We hope the world will lend us a hand to help these refugees.”

“Our dream is to be able to let the refugees live here and at the same time to work in order to let them go back to their home countries,” Marmara told CNA.

He explained that Caritas Turkey has several refugees camps, but “refugees want to move to the big cities, like Istanbul, where they think there are more opportunities.”

Marmara met with the Pope during the three-day papal trip to Turkey at the end of November. On that trip, the Pope visited with refugees, telling them that God never forgets them.

Pope Francis also celebrated Mass at the Holy Spirit Cathedral in Istanbul. Upon meeting him, Marmara presented the Holy Father with a book he had written about the history of the first Jesuits who went to evangelize Turkey.

“The history of Jesuits is intimately linked to the history of the Church in Turkey. Jesuits have been the first to come to this Eastern land, this is a long story, a very beautiful story which I tried to show,” Marmara said.

He added that “the Caritas commitment should be cultural, beyond their task of assisting people. Culture makes people unite, since there is no religion nor nationality with culture.”

Source: http://www.catholicnewsagency.com/news/popes-visit-could-draw-attention-to-refugees-in-turkey-57182/

Pope to journalists: I prayed for Turkey, for peace, for Christian unity

Dec. 1, 2014 - Vatican Radio Half a century on from the first meeting between a Pope and an Orthodox Patriarch, one of the frequently asked questions at the end of this visit to Turkey is how long will it take before the two Churches are reunited again? A second question that’s been on everyone’s lips in the overwhelmingly Muslim nation is what difference will this trip make to the interreligious tensions that continue to inflame conflicts in countries such as Syria, Iraq and Nigeria, to cite just those places that have been mentioned by name over the past three days. Pope Francis responded to both these questions during a lengthy press conference on the plane back to Rome. (He also walked down between the seats shaking all of our hands with a smile, a joke, a word of thanks for the job that we do).

On the ecumenical front, he noted that not all Catholics and Orthodox are happy with the progress that’s been made, but he said the work of convincing the more conservative factions must continue with patience and humility. While remaining sceptical that theologians will announce a breakthrough in the dialogue any time soon, the Pope also reiterated his firm conviction that Christians must continue with the daily practise of praying, working and teaching together. No-one is putting a timeframe on the reconciliation of East and Western Christianity, but there is hope that a synod of leaders from around the Orthodox world, planned for 2016 (with Catholic observers possibly in attendance) will help to speed up this urgent ecumenical journey.

On the interfaith front, the Pope spoke warmly of his meeting at the Diyanet in Ankara with Muslim leaders, saying we need to take a step forward in the quality of conversations between people of different religious beliefs. He said he told Turkish president Erdogan that leaders must clearly condemn all terrorist violence that has nothing to do with the Koran, which he called “a book of peace”.  He also mentioned his visit to Istanbul’s Blue Mosque where he said he prayed for peace in Turkey and beyond. Both the encounter with the Grand Mufti in his place of prayer and his tour of the ancient Hagia Sophia museum, while not novelties in themselves, will surely encourage trust and open doors to understanding the pain of each other's historical memories.

The Pope also talked about a question that surprisingly hasn’t been under the spotlight - next year’s centenary of the Armenian genocide in which a million and a half people died at the hands of the Ottoman forces. While Turkey has long  denied this historical tragedy, the Pope noted that President Erdogan has recently mentioned the event, saying any such attempts to reach out are positive, however small they may be.

Finally, as we’ve so often seen, Pope Francis’ thoughts at the end of this Turkish trip were with the refugees - those who rarely make news headlines, but with whom he had a last brief encounter before leaving Istanbul. And that’s what this visit was really all about: not grand political gestures or historical religious agreements, but rather about personal encounters and small signs of hope through which we witness to the human values at the heart of our different faiths.

(Philippa Hitchen)

Source: http://en.radiovaticana.va/news/2014/12/01/pope_press_conference_on_return_flight_from_turkey/1113103

Muslims must speak out against terrorism, violence, Pope insists

Pope Francis prays with journalists on the papal flight en route to South Korea, August 14, 2014. Credit: Alan Holdren/CNA.  
.- On his in-flight press conference returning from a three-day trip to Turkey, Pope Francis said that Muslim leaders around the world must speak out against violence and terrorism carried out in the name of Islam.

“I believe sincerely that it can’t be said that all Muslims are terrorists. You can’t say that. Just as you can’t say that all Christians are fundamentalists because we have them too, eh. In all religions, there are these little groups,” he said Nov. 30.

“I told the (Turkish) president that it would be nice if all the Muslim leaders, whether political leaders or religious leaders or academic leaders, say that clearly and condemn it, no?” he continued, explaining that “all of us need a worldwide condemnation, also from Muslims who have the identity who say ‘We aren’t that. The Quran isn’t that’.”

The Pope also offered a firm warning on the situation of Middle East Christians.

“Truly, I don’t want to use sweetened words. Christians are being chased out of the Middle East. Sometimes, as we have seen in Iraq, the area of Mosul, they have to go away and leave everything, or pay the tax which doesn’t do any good.”

Speaking of broader violence throughout the world, Pope Francis said he believes “that we are living through a third world war, a war in pieces, in chapters, everywhere.”

“Behind this, there are rivalries, political problems and economic problems, to save this system where the god of money and not the human person is at the center. And behind this, there are also commercial interests: arms trafficking is terrible; it is one of the strongest businesses of this time.”

He cautioned that while humanity has discovered the positive good of nuclear energy, it has also used this energy for destructive means.

Asked about his trip to Turkey, Pope Francis emphasized ecumenism. He spoke about the importance of dialogue based on shared experience.

The Holy Father voiced his conviction that Catholics are moving forward in their relationship with the Orthodox, who have both the sacraments and apostolic succession.

“Unity is a journey we must undertake together,” praying and working together, he said, also noting “ecumenism of the blood,” as both Catholic and Orthodox martyrs shed their blood for the Christian faith.

Division exists when the Church becomes self-referential rather than focusing outward, the Pope stated. But while there are still difficulties, “we must be respectful and not tire of engaging in dialogue, without insulting others, without dirtying ourselves, without gossiping.”

In addition, Pope Francis spoke about a particularly intense moment of prayer he had during the papal trip.

He explained that he came to Turkey “as a pilgrim, not as a tourist,” and “the main reason was the feast today to share it with Patriarch Bartholomew, a religious reason.”

“But then, when I went into the mosque, I couldn’t say, ‘No, now I’m a tourist.’ No, it was all religious,” he said. “I saw those marvels, also the Mufti explained the things well to me with so much meekness, with the Quran where it spoke of Mary and John the Baptist. And he explained it all to me and in that moment I felt the need to pray. And, I said to him, ‘Shall we pray?’ And he said, ‘Yes, yes.’ I prayed for Turkey, for peace, for the Mufti, for everyone, for myself because I need it. And, we truly prayed. And, I prayed especially for peace. Lord, let’s end wars. It was like that. It was a moment of sincere prayer.”

He also spoke about his visit with refugee children and said that he would like to go to Iraq.

“For the moment it isn’t possible. It’s not that I don’t want to go, but if I went right now it would cause a quite serious problem for the authorities, for security. But, I would really like to and I want to,” he said.

Source: http://www.catholicnewsagency.com/news/muslims-must-speak-out-against-terrorism-violence-pope-insists-69771/

Young Syrian refugee tells Pope, 'pray for us and pray for peace'

Syrian refugee Sarah, 14, displays a painting she made for Pope Francis. Credit: Daniel Ibanez/CNA.
Syrian refugee Sarah, 14, displays a painting she made for Pope Francis. Credit: Daniel Ibanez/CNA.   
 By Elise Harris and Andrea Gagliarducci
.- Currently a living as a refugee at a Salesian school in Istanbul, 14-year-old Sarah will give Pope Francis a picture that she painted,  and  says that she will ask him to pray for world peace.

“My name is Sarah, and I made this picture in the name of the school to give it to the Pope. This is my picture with Jesus and Don Bosco, and here we have the glow of Don Bosco and the Sun of Jesus,” Sarah told CNA Nov. 27.

Originally from Aleppo, Sarah has been living with her family as a refugee in Istanbul for a year, and is currently enrolled as a student in the Don Bosco center of Istanbul, which is run by religious and attends to the needs of refugees and immigrants.

One of the handful of students who will meet with the Pope for a private encounter just before his Nov. 30 return to Rome, Sarah said that her mother is an artist, and helped her to do the painting, which will be given to the Pope in the name of the school.

“We need peace in our country,” she said, explaining that when she meets Pope Francis she will tell him “to pray for us and to (pray for) the peace of the world, because in Syria we have the war.”

The Syrian conflict began in March, 2011 when anti-government demonstrations sprang up nationwide against Bashar al-Assad's rule.

In April of that year, the Syrian army began to deploy to put down the uprisings, firing on protesters. Since then, the violence has morphed into a civil war which has claimed the lives of more than 200,000 people.

The civil war is being fought among the Syrian regime and a number of rebel groups, which include moderates, such as the Free Syrian Army; Islamists such as al-Nusra Front and the Islamic State; and Kurdish separatists.

The war has resulted in the flight of more than 3.2 million Syrians as refugees in nearby countries, most of them in Lebanon, Turkey and Jordan.

An additional 8 million Syrian people are believed to have been internally displaced by the war.

Pope Francis is set to meet with the children from the Don Bosco Center on the final day of his trip, after holding a private Mass, praying Divine Liturgy at the patriarchal church of St. George, and signing a joint declaration with Bartholomew I in the morning.

Source: http://www.catholicnewsagency.com/news/young-syrian-refugee-tells-pope-pray-for-us-and-pray-for-peace-31107/

'Things will change!' – Turkish girls hopeful after Pope's visit

Pope Francis exits Istanbul's Holy Spirit Cathedral Nov 29. Credit: Daniel Ibanez/CNA.
Pope Francis exits Istanbul's Holy Spirit Cathedral Nov 29. Credit: Daniel Ibanez/CNA.

.- Pope Francis’ visit to Turkey may change the traction Christians have in a country that is almost entirely Muslim, said two Turkish young women who had the occasion to greet the Pope on his recent trip.

Baram, a nearly 30-year-old woman with a degree in French Literature, told CNA that “there is a group of people here in Turkey that does not understand Christianity, or simply they are not interested in Christianity.”

However, she said, “the fact that Pope Francis came, and spoke with the leaders, and provided examples, is such an important thing,” and in fact, it may “change the perception of the Church.”

“Thing will change! Of course they will. Even if just one small group of people is caught up in these ideas, then this small group will speak with others, and this larger group will influence other people… this is how things change, this is how things happen,” Baram said.

Her words were echoed by those of Isabel, age 23.

“I did not expect that the Pope would come this year, because of the tricky political situation… but he came, and it seems there will be a collaboration among Catholics and Orthodox, and all of the other religions, since Turkey is a Muslim country,” Isabel reflected, saying that “the arrival of Pope Francis, his being so human, may foster new things.”

Pope Francis traveled to Turkey for a three-day trip at the end of November.

His predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, had also visited the country, making a trip there in 2006.

Isabel said that Benedict’s visit – like all papal visits – brought joy and peace, but “things did not change a lot” because true change requires action by the people.

Both Baram and Isabel took part in the Nov. 29 Papal Mass at Istanbul’s Holy Spirit Cathedral.

Baram, a member of the Neocatechumenal Way, went with her group to welcome the Pope in front of the Hagia Sophia Museum.

“When we determined that the Pope was coming, we prepared banners and flags to welcome him, and then we went very early to Hagia Sophia, singing for him and waiting for him. And then he arrived, and he was right in front of me…it was a moment I cannot explain,” she said.

Baram attended the Nov. 29 Mass from the balcony, while Isabel was seated among the crowd within the Church.

“I was just along the path where the Pope passed, and I had the occasion to kiss his hand when he came and when he went away,” Isabel recounted.

Her uncle Ilyia was waiting for the Pope at the entrance of the church, and he was able to have a long moment with the Pope.

Isabel recounted that “the Pope stopped with him and his family, they took pictures and the Pope blessed my little cousin.”

She also reflected on the difficulties of living in a country that is majority Muslim.

“Sometimes, I think that if we had lived in France, Italy, Spain, it would have been less difficult being Christian. It is not that I feel alone, but we are such a small minority here,” she said.

Source: http://www.catholicnewsagency.com/news/things-will-change-turkish-girls-hopeful-after-popes-visit-89385/

Patriarch Twal inaugurates courtroom of Latin Ecclesiastical Court in Jordan


Nov. 29, 2014, Abouna.org - Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem Fouad Twal inaugurated on Saturday, November 29, the courtroom of the Latin Ecclesiastical Court in Jordan which had earlier been renovated.

Present were Latin Patriarchal vicar for Jordan Archbishop Maroun Lahham, Bishop William Shomali, Latin Patriarchal vicar for Jerusalem, President of the Court Fr. Dr. Jihad Shwaihat and his assistant Fr. Dr. Shawqi Baterian, a number of priests, as well as several ecclesiastical judges and lawyers.

Fr. Shwaihat thanked all those who support the Latin Ecclesiastical Court in Jordan and spoke about the impact of the Romanian judiciary in Jordan years ago, noting that the first case was handled by the ecclesiastical court in Jordan in 1939 and signed by late president of the court at the time Fr. Mansour Jallad.

Ms. Claudia Massis reviewed the most important cases tackled by the court over the past years, while lawyer Jacob Farr talked about the issues faced by the court, namely the amended “Christian Communities Council Draft Law 2014.”

Patriarch Twal stressed the important role played by the Latin Ecclesiastical Court and underlined his support for the court with the aim of attaining further progress and achievements.

Source: http://en.abouna.org/en/holylands/patriarch-twal-inaugurates-courtroom-latin-ecclesiastical-court-jordan

Francis meets young refugees before returning to Rome

“Dear young people, do not be discouraged.” Pope Francis made this appeal during an encounter with young refugees in Istanbul, urging them to remember that God never forgets his children.

Pope Francis meets young Christian and Muslim refugees

By Iacopo Scaramuzzi [Vatican Insider] and also Ann Schneible [Catholic News Agency]

During the meeting the Pope condemned the degrading conditions in which refugees are forced to live as “intolerable”. “I wanted to meet more refugees but it was not possible,” he added. Before making his way tot he airport, Francis paid a visit to the Armenian Patriarch who is currently in hospital.

“Greater international cooperation” is needed in order “to counter the causes” of the “intolerable” degrading conditions in which refugees are forced to live. Francis said this in his address to a hundred or so young Christians and Muslims, most of them children, who are being assisted by the Salesians and Caritas Istanbul. The young people came from families of refugees currently living in Turkey.

“I have greatly desired to meet with you, youth from Turkey, Syria, Iraq and other countries of the Middle East and Africa. I wanted to meet more refugees but it was not possible,” a Francis said looking tired and visibly moved at the meeting which took place in the Cathedral of the Holy Spirit, in Istanbul.

Young refugees in Istanbul wait for Pope Francis to visit on Nov. 30 2014. Credit: Daniel Ibáñez/CNA.
Young refugees in Istanbul wait for Pope Francis to visit on Nov. 30 2014. Credit: Daniel Ibáñez/CNA.

This was the last official meeting of the Pope’s three-day visit to Turkey. It was brought forward a little bit, in order to give Francis time to pay a quick visit to the Armenian Orthodox Patriarch of Constantinople, Mesrob Mutafian, who was admitted to San Salvatore hospital after falling into a coma some years ago. Francis is expected to take the flight from Istanbul airport back to Rome at about 5 pm local time. Before this morning’s Divine Liturgy with the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew (who will be at the airport this evening to wave Francis off), the Pope held a 15 minute or so meeting with the Chief Rabbi of Turkey, Isak Haleva.

The “difficult situation” in which these young people live, Francis said in his address to them, “is the sad consequence of brutal conflicts and war, which are always evils and which never solve problems. Rather, they only create new ones. Refugees, such as yourselves, often find themselves deprived, sometimes for long periods, of basic needs such as a dignified home, healthcare, education and work. They have had to abandon not only their material possessions, but above all their freedom, closeness to family, their homeland and cultural traditions. The degrading conditions in which so many refugees are forced to live are intolerable! For this reason, we must do everything possible to eradicate the causes of this situation. I appeal for greater international cooperation to resolve the conflicts which are causing bloodshed in your homelands, to counter the other causes which are driving people to leave their home countries, and to improve conditions so that people may remain or return home. I encourage all who are working generously and steadfastly for justice and peace not to lose heart. I ask political leaders to always remember that the great majority of their people long for peace, even if at times they lack the strength and voice to demand it.” The Pope thanked the Catholic organisations that “are doing a great deal for refugees.” He also expressed his “deep gratitude” to the Turkish authorities for the great efforts they have made in assisting the displaced, in particular Syrian and Iraqi refugees, and for the authorities’ tangible commitment in trying to meet their needs.” “I hope that the necessary support of the international community may not be lacking.”

“Dear young people, do not be discouraged,” Francis said. “It is easier said than done but try not to be discouraged.” “For my part, together with the whole Church, I will continue to pray to the Lord, asking him to inspire those in leadership, so that they will not hesitate to promote justice, security and peace and do so in ways that are clear and effective. Through her social and charitable organizations, the Church will remain at your side and will continue to hold up your cause before the world.” At the end of the meeting, a girl greeted the Pope on behalf of the group, recalling the tragic realities from which these young people have escaped.

Sun, 11/30/2014 - 18:11

Carols in Arabic and English at Sacred Heart Church, Manama, Bahrain


As part of the preparations for Christmas celebrations, the Sacred Heart Church in Manama, Bahrain, has held its Annual Choir Day at the church hall in the presence of parish priest Fr. Maroun Basil, priests and nuns, as well as members of the Arab and foreign communities in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia.

The carols were in both Arabic and English. The parish council announced that the proceeds from the event would go to help finance the construction of the new cathedral in Awali area, whose land was donated by the King of Bahrain, Hamad Ibn Isa Al Khalifa.
Sun, 11/30/2014 - 13:35

Fr. Lombardi briefs journalists on final day of papal trip

Pope Francis with Father Lombardi - AFP

Nov. 30, 2014, Vatican Radio - The Director of the Vatican Press Office, Father Federico Lombardi, briefed journalists on the events which took place on Sunday, the final day of Pope Francis’ pastoral visit to Turkey. He described the Pope’s participation in a Divine Liturgy alongside the Ecumenical Patriarch, Bartholomew  I, as a profoundly moving experience and also commented on both leaders’ words on the issue of primacy during the Liturgy. Father Lombardi drew attention to Bartholomew’s “important” remarks on the role of the Church of Rome and of the Pope in which he spoke of a “primacy of love, of honour and of service in the prospect of synodality.” He also noted Pope Francis’s words that he is not seeking “a submission” or “to absorb” but to receive all the gifts that each has and that he is “only looking for communion with the Orthodox Church.”  Father Lombardi described the Pope’s remarks as a strong statement that he believes will help dispel any suspicion or any problem on the whole question of power – the primacy of power and not of love.

During his address at the Liturgy, Pope Francis referred to the attack on a mosque in the Northern Nigerian city of Kano and Father Lombardi said his remarks underlined that we must stand together against every form of terrorism.   He also gave details of the Pope’s meeting on Sunday morning with the Grand Rabbi of Istanbul, Isak Haleva, describing it as a “very friendly and cordial” encounter.

Source: http://en.radiovaticana.va/news/2014/11/30/fr_lombardi_briefs_journalists_on_final_day_of_papal_trip/1113077

Watching the celebration of the Divine Liturgy

Pope Francis and Patriarch Bartholomew - EPA

Nov. 30, 2014, Vatican Radio - In Istanbul on Sunday November 30th, Feast of Saint Andrew, Pope Francis took part in the Divine Liturgy celebrated by Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I. Philippa Hitchen who attended the event places it into context: 

Watching the celebration of the Divine Liturgy inside the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Istanbul, you could be forgiven for thinking this was just another lengthy, elaborate Orthodox liturgy, albeit an important one marking the feast of St Andrew, revered as the founder of the Church throughout the Orthodox world. You might also look at the rows of elderly men, robed in black and gold, half hidden behind the ornate icon screen and wonder what on earth this ancient liturgy has to do with the urgent problems facing Christians in this part of the world today. And you might even ask what’s the point of the Pope travelling to Turkey to meet with the Patriarch, a man he’s already encountered on three previous occasions in Rome and Jerusalem.

Speaking before the signing of a common declaration between the two Church leaders, Pope Francis answered those questions, stressing clearly what he called “the logic of personal encounter”. Theological dialogue between the experts is extremely important, he said, recalling the recent 50th anniversary of the Vatican II document on ecumenism which affirms the validity of Orthodox sacraments and the rich patrimony of all the Eastern Churches. But Christianity, the Pope said, is about a person-to-person experience which changes the way we view the world and treat other people. Just like Andrew, the Galilean fisherman, who was so touched by his personal encounter with Jesus, he wanted to share that joy with his brother Peter at the start of our Christian story.

But Sunday’s celebration wasn’t just about the warm embrace between the Pope and Patriarch either. They already see eye-to-eye on the urgency of a new, united Christian witness to the world. Pope Francis also said he also wanted to assure each one of the Orthodox bishops in attendance from different parts of the world that the Catholic Church does not intend to impose any conditions on the search for unity, other than a shared profession of faith. In the delicate relationships with other Orthodox leaders, let’s hope those words can help to increase the trust needed to make some concrete steps forward.

If you’re wondering why we should care about these rather specialised problems of promoting unity between the divided Churches, the Pope answered that questions too, saying people are crying out for a genuine Christian witness to the values upon which our faith is founded. Those people include the poor, the hungry, the unemployed, who look to the Church to defend their dignity and uphold their rights. They include all the victims of conflicts, whose cry urges us to move quickly along the path of reconciliation. How can we credibly proclaim a message of peace, he asked, if there continues to be rivalry and disagreement between us? And they include voices of young people who are looking for fulfilment but are unable to find it in contemporary culture which values happiness in terms of money and material possessions.

So beautiful though this ancient liturgy may be, it’s not about harking back to the past but rather about what the Churches, together, can do to help people suffering around the world today. It still won’t be easy to clear away all those obstacles that have built up between Catholics and Orthodox over the past millennium, but it’s one of the most urgent tasks facing Christians today. But it’s the reason why the Pope has come here to Turkey for a personal encounter that can help to speed up this urgent reconciliation process.

Source: http://en.radiovaticana.va/news/2014/11/30/watching_the_celebration_of_the_divine_liturgy_/1113036

Patriarch Bartholomew: Christian martyrdom makes unity urgent

Patriarch Bartholomew I and Pope Francis in Istanbul - AP

Nov. 30, 2014, Vatican Radio - Calling Pope Francis his “beloved brother in Christ,” the head of the Orthodox Church, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I on Sunday recalled their gathering last May at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem on the fiftieth anniversary of the historic ecumenical meeting of their predecessors, Pope Paul VI and Patriarch Athenagoras.Welcoming the Pope after a celebration of the Divine Liturgy at the Patriarchal Church of St. George in Istanbul, Patriarch Bartholomew said “the path toward unity is more urgent than ever for those who invoke the name of the great Peacemaker.”

Citing the “diverse divisions, conflicts and animosities, frequently even in the name of God,” the Patriarch said Christians have a “great” responsibility “before God, humankind and history.”

He noted that the Orthodox Church is preparing for its Great Council planned for 2016  and asked Pope Francis to pray for its success.  The Patriarch expressed satisfaction that members of both Churches are present as observers in each other’s synodal life and said he hoped that once full communion is restored, “the significant and special day” of holding a joint Great Ecumenical Council will “not be prolonged.”

In concluding, the Patriarch said “the challenges presented to our Churches by today’s historical circumstances oblige us to transcend our introversion in order to meet them with the greatest degree of collaboration.  We no longer have the luxury of isolated action.  The modern persecutors of Christians do not ask which Church their victims belong to.  The unity that concerns us is regrettably already occurring in certain regions of the world through the blood of martyrdom.”

Below, please find the complete text of Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I’s address to Pope Francis:

Your Holiness Pope Francis, beloved brother in Christ, bishop of Senior Rome,

We offer glory and praise to our God in Trinity for deeming us worthy of the ineffable joy and special honor of the personal presence here of Your Holiness on the occasion of this year's celebration of the sacred memory of the First-called Apostle Andrew, who founded our Church through his preaching. We are profoundly grateful to Your Holiness for the precious gift of Your blessed presence among us, together with Your honorable entourage. We embrace you wholeheartedly and honorably, addressing you fervently with a greeting of peace and love: "Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ" (Rom. 1.7). "For the love of Christ controls us" (2 Cor. 5.14).

We still vividly preserve in our heart the recollection of our encounter with Your Holiness in the Holy Land for a joint pious pilgrimage in the place where the pioneer of our faith was once born, lived, taught, suffered, was risen and ascended as well as for a thankful remembrance of the historical event of the meeting there by our predecessors, the late Pope Paul VI and Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras. As a result of their meeting in the Holy City fifty years ago, the flow of history has literally changed direction: the parallel and occasionally conflicting journeys of our Churches have coincided in the common vision of restoring our lost unity; the cold love between us has been rekindled, while our desire to do everything in our capacity so that our communion in the same faith and the same chalice may once again emerge has been galvanized. Thenceforth, the road to Emmaus has opened up before us – a road that, while perhaps lengthy and sometimes even rugged, is nonetheless irreversible – with the Lord as our companion, until He is revealed to us "in the breaking of the bread" (Luke 24.35).

This way has since been followed – and is still being followed – by all of the successors of those inspired leaders, in turn establishing, dedicating and endorsing the dialogue of love and truth between our Churches in order to lift a millennium of burdens amassed in our relations. This dialogue is one that befits friends and not, as in former times, adversaries, inasmuch as sincerely seek to be rightly dividing the word of truth and respect one another as brothers.

In such an atmosphere fashioned by our aforementioned predecessors with respect to our common journey, we too fraternally welcome Your Holiness as bearing the love of St. Peter to his brother, St. Andrew, whose sacred feast we celebrate today. In accordance with a holy custom established and observed for decades now by the Churches of Senior and New Rome, official delegations exchange visits on the occasion of their respective patronal feasts in order to demonstrate by this manner as well the fraternal bond between the two chief Apostles, who together came to know Jesus Christ and to believe in Him as God and Savior. These Apostles transmitted this common faith to the Churches founded by their preaching and sanctified by their martyrdom. This faith was also jointly experienced and articulated into doctrine by our Church Fathers, who assembled from East and West in ecumenical councils, bequeathing it to our Churches as an unshakable foundation of our unity. It is this same faith, which we have together preserved in both East and West for an entire millennium, that we are once again called to deposit as the basis of our unity in order that, "being in full accord and of one mind" (Phil. 2.2), we may press on with Paul "forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead" (Phil. 3.13).

After all, Your Holiness and dear Brother, our obligation is surely not exhausted in the past but primarily extends to the future, especially in our times. For what is the value of our fidelity to the past unless this denotes something for the future? What is the benefit of boasting for what we have received unless these translate into life for humanity and our world both today and tomorrow? "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and to the ages" (Heb. 13.8). And His Church is called to keep its sight fixed not so much on yesterday as on today and tomorrow. The Church exists not for itself, but for the world and for humanity.
Therefore, in directing our sight toward today, we cannot avoid being anxious also for tomorrow. "There is fighting without and fear within" (2 Cor. 7.5) – This recognition of the Apostle Paul about his age is indisputably valid also for us today. Indeed, even as we are preoccupied with our own contentions, the world experiences the fear of survival, the concern for tomorrow. How can humanity survive tomorrow when it is severed today by diverse divisions, conflicts and animosities, frequently even in the name of God? How will the earth's wealth be distributed more equitably in order for humanity tomorrow to avoid the most heinous slavery ever known in history? What sort of planet will future generations inherit when modern man is destroying it so mercilessly and irrevocably through greed?

Nowadays many people place their hope on science; others on politics; still others in technology. Yet none of these can guarantee the future, unless humanity espouses the message of reconciliation, love and justice; the mission of embracing the other, the stranger, and even the enemy. The Church of Christ, who first proclaimed and practiced this teaching, is compelled to be the first to apply this teaching "so that the world may believe" (John 17.21). This is precisely why the path toward unity is more urgent than ever for those who invoke the name of the great Peacemaker. This is precisely why our responsibility as Christians is so great before God, humankind and history.

Your Holiness,

Your hitherto brief tenure at the helm of Your Church has already manifested You in people's conscience today as a herald of love, peace and reconciliation. You preach with words, but above and beyond all with the simplicity, humility and love toward everyone that you exercise your high ministry. You inspire trust in those who doubt, hope in those who despair, anticipation in those who expect a Church that nurtures all people. Moreover, You offer to Your Orthodox brothers and sisters the aspiration that during Your tenure the rapprochement of our two great ancient Churches will continue to be established on the solid foundations of our common tradition, which always preserved and acknowledged in the constitution of the Church a primacy of love, honor and service within the framework of collegiality, in order that "with one mouth and one heart" we may confess the Trinitarian God and that His love may be poured out upon the world.

Your Holiness,

The Church of Constantinople, which today for the first time receives You with fervent love and honor as well as with heartfelt gratitude, bears upon its shoulders a heavy legacy, but also a responsibility for the present and the future. In this Church, through the order instituted by the holy Ecumenical Councils, divine providence has assigned the responsibility of coordinating and expressing the unanimity of the most holy local Orthodox Churches. In the context of this responsibility, we are already working very assiduously for the preparation of the Holy and Great Council of the Orthodox Church, which – as decided – will convene here, God willing, in 2016. At this time, the appropriate committees are laboring feverishly to prepare this great event in the history of the Orthodox Church, for whose success we also implore Your prayers. Unfortunately, the Eucharistic communion of our Churches that was interrupted one thousand years ago does not yet permit the convocation of a joint Great Ecumenical Council. Let us pray that, once full communion is restored, this significant and special day will also not be prolonged. However, until that blessed day, the participation in one another's synodal life will be expressed through the involvement of observers, as we observe now, with Your gracious invitation to attend Synods of Your Church, just as we hope will also occur when, with God's grace, our Holy and Great Council becomes reality.

Your Holiness,

The challenges presented to our Churches by today's historical circumstances oblige us to transcend our introversion in order to meet them with the greatest degree of collaboration. We no longer have the luxury of isolated action. The modern persecutors of Christians do not ask which Church their victims belong to. The unity that concerns us is regrettably already occurring in certain regions of the world through the blood of martyrdom. Together let us extend our hand to people of our time; together let us extend the hand of Him, who alone can save humankind through His Cross and Resurrection.

With these thoughts and sentiments, once again we express our joy and thanks at the presence here of Your Holiness, even as we pray that the Lord – through the intercessions of the one we celebrate today, the First-called Apostle and brother of the Chief of the Apostles Peter – may protect His Church and direct it to the fulfillment of His sacred will.

Welcome among us, dearly beloved brother!

Source: http://en.radiovaticana.va/news/2014/11/30/patriarch_bartholomewchristian_martyrdom_makes_unity_urgent/1113037

Lombardi: Pope and Patriarch providing inspiration for unity

Father Federico Lombardi SJ - ANSA
30/11/2014 03:25
Nov. 30, 2014, Vatican Radio - Sunday morning in Istanbul was dedicated to ecumenism with the celebration of the Divine Liturgy in the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople, the signing of the Joint Declaration by Pope Francis and the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I, and then lunch in which the two leaders participated together with their respective delegations.
Vatican Radio’s Philippa Hitchen, who is travelling in Turkey with the Pope, spoke briefly to Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, Director of the Holy See Press Office about the ongoing push for unity.

Father Lombardi says that “Every time you pray together you do something that is very important, because we believe that unity is a gift of God” and – he says – “if you don’t pray very much you will never succeed in achieving unity”.

“I think in the atmosphere and also in the tone of the speech there was the expression of a very strong will to go forward” he continued.

Lombardi says that these two leaders – Pope Francis and the Patriarch Bartholomew are really willing to go forward and “I think they are trying to force the resistances’ that be, and also to encourage the progress of reflection and theological studies” he says.

Lombardi points out that theological reflection can take a long time, but one can press it to go faster if there is really is the inspiration and the mutual will to listen and to find solutions. “In this sense there is a very important impulse driven forward by these two men” he says.

And he says there are also other steps that can be taken, like the work of the Theological Commission the preparation of the Pan orthodox Council.

Lombardi concludes that even the crisis in the world today has awakened a new common sensibility giving us “many occasions in which we can go forward ecumenically”.

Source: http://en.radiovaticana.va/news/2014/11/30/lombardi_pope_and_patriarch_providing_inspiration_for_unity/1113072

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Knights of Columbus donate $2 million for Middle East refugee housing

Refugee child in Ankaway, Erbil at the opening of his tent_Catholic News Agency. Credit: Maria Lozano.
By Matt Hadro
.- The Knights of Columbus is putting more than $2 million toward new homes for Iraqi and Syrian refugees fleeing violence, and not a moment too soon, said Supreme Knight Carl Anderson.

“We have tens of thousands of refugees in this area [Northern Iraq] who have been driven from their homes at the point of a gun. Many of them are sleeping outdoors, in hallways, three, four families together in a Christian school. And winter is coming,” Anderson told CNA in a Nov. 20 interview.

“So we have to provide something for them on a more permanent basis because this isn’t going to be solved in the next few months or maybe even in the next few years,” he continued. “What we don’t want to have happen is people being born and dying in huge refugee camps, like what’s happened to the Palestinians, for example. So it’s important that we take some action.”

Construction on the houses “may begin as early as next month,” the Knights of Columbus website noted. More than 100,000 Christians have fled their homes in the Mosul region of Northern Iraq after Islamic State forces drove them out in their summer offensive. Many of the inhabitants had to leave most or all of their belongings behind, and refugees are now living in tents or schools.

The Church has been the sole source of aid to the refugees because the Iraqi government has done nothing, a member of the international aid group Aid to the Church in Need told CNA in October.

With 1.8 million members worldwide, the Knights of Columbus is the world’s largest Catholic fraternal order.

The Knights announced on Nov 19 that they would be donating over $2 million to aid Iraqi and Syrian refugees fleeing violence – and not only to Christians but other religious minorities as well. Permanent homes will be constructed in the Chaldean Catholic Archdiocese of Erbil, which lies in territory controlled by the Kurds in Northern Iraq.

The Knights raised $1.7 million from individual members, local councils and other donations since August, on top of the $1 million the fund began with. Money came along with prayers for the refugees, Anderson said. The fund is still open for public donations.

In addition to house funding, the Knights’ Christian Refugee Relief Fund is giving $200,000 in general aid to the Greek Melkite Catholic Archdiocese of Aleppo, Syria.

Anderson emphasized that Christians have a right to live in the region they have inhabited for thousands of years.

“Those people who want to stay – and you have to remember that these people speak the same language that Jesus spoke – this is a community of faith that was there long before many other communities. They have a right to stay there.”

The Knights’ action is in response to Pope Francis’ call for a “globalization of charity” towards migrants worldwide, Anderson affirmed.

“This is maybe the most glaring example of this crisis. It is – in many other places in the world – my experience has been people like to stay in their homes if they can. People are emigrating because it’s impossible for them to stay in their homeland. So we have to be able to find a way of solving these problems,” he said.

“These new homes are signs of hope that will allow this community to begin to blossom once again,” he stated in a Nov. 19 statement.

Source: http://www.catholicnewsagency.com/news/knights-donate-2-million-for-middle-east-refugee-housing-70573/

From Ankara, an urgent appeal for Middle East peace

Pope Francis during his visit to the Ataturk mausoleum in Ankara, Turkey - AP

Vatican Radio, Nov. 29, 2014 -  Day two of the Holy Father’s Apostolic visit to Turkey and Pope Francis travels from the capital Ankara headed for the city that joins two continents on the banks of the Bosphorous, the city of Istanbul.

His message from the Turkish capital was an urgent appeal for peace in the Middle East. Philippa Hitchen is travelling with Pope Francis and sent us this report:

It was bitterly cold as the papal place touched down in Ankara airport on Friday, with snow clearly visible on the mountains surrounding this central Anatolian plateau.

The city is a modern, fast-growing metropolis, established as the political and administrative capital by Ataturk in 1923, when he founded the secular Turkish state. This father of the nation, who also served as president for the first 15 years, is buried in a mausoleum, built to resemble a giant Greek temple, where Pope Francis stopped to lay a wreath and write a greeting to the Turkish people. He noted that this country forms a natural bridge between two continents, Europe and Asia, adding he hoped the modern state could be not just a geographical crossroads, but also a place of peaceful cultural encounter between people of different religions and ethnicities.

Turkey prides itself on being just that, said both President Erdogan and Professor Gormez, who heads the Diyanet or religious affairs department. The president welcomed the Vatican delegation in his sumptuous, spanking-new palace, with a thousand rooms and giant mosque costing over 600 million dollars. Not exactly the style that the frugal Francis approves of or feels comfortable with, but nevertheless he listened politely as the president railed against the many evils of Western society, prejudice, intolerance, racism and Islamophobia.

By contrast, the erudite, softly spoken professor at the Diyanet seemed more in tune with the Pope’s own message of the responsibility of people of faith to work closer together to combat the problems of poverty and hunger, hatred and conflict, environmental destruction and fanaticism of all kinds. Those spreading violence in the name of Allah, he said, are in “complete violation” of the peaceful path of Islam.

In his response Pope Francis focused up close on the human tragedies that are resulting from that fanatical violence of fundamentalists in neighbouring Iraq and Syria, causing millions of families - mothers, children, the elderly – to flee for their lives. He praised the Turkish people for all that they’re doing to help these refugees and he said Christian and Muslim leaders must do more to find solutions to the region’s problems. How much longer must the Middle East suffer like this, he asked, adding that we must never resign ourselves to war and conflict.

The Pope’s words today may have been directed at religious and political leaders in this central Turkish city, but coming just six months after his visit to Jordan, Israel and Palestine, his message was yet another urgent appeal for peace throughout the wider, war-torn region.


Pope: Throw off our defensiveness and be led by the Spirit

Interior of Istanbul's Cathedral of the Holy Spirit - REUTERS
(Vatican Radio)  Pope Francis celebrated Mass on Saturday at Istanbul’s Cathedral of the Holy Spirit and in his homily reflected on the need for Christians to be guided by the Holy Spirit who is able to kindle diversity, multiplicity and, at the same time, bring about unity.  He warned that the temptation is always within us to resist the Holy Spirit because he takes us out of our comfort zone and unsettles us.  We must throw off our defensiveness, the Pope said, not remain entrenched within our ideas and unchanging ways and allow ourselves to be led by the Spirit. 

Please see below an English translation of the full text of Pope Francis’ homily:

Homily of His Holiness Pope Francis
Holy Mass at the Cathedral of the Holy Spirit
Istanbul, 29 November 2014

In the Gospel, Jesus shows himself to be the font from which those who thirst for salvation draw upon, as the Rock from whom the Father brings forth living waters for all who believe in him (cf. Jn 7:38).  In openly proclaiming this prophecy in Jerusalem, Jesus heralds the gift of the Holy Spirit whom the disciples will receive after his glorification, that is, after his death and resurrection (cf. v. 39).

                The Holy Spirit is the soul of the Church.  He gives life, he brings forth different charisms which enrich the people of God and, above all, he creates unity among believers: from the many he makes one body, the Body of Christ.  The Church’s whole life and mission depend on the Holy Spirit; he fulfils all things.

                The profession of faith itself, as Saint Paul reminds us in today’s first reading, is only possible because it is prompted by the Holy Spirit: “No one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except by the Holy Spirit” (1 Cor 12:3b).  When we pray, it is because the Holy Spirit inspires prayer in our heart.  When we break the cycle of our self-centredness, and move beyond ourselves and go out to encounter others, to listen to them and help them, it is the Spirit of God who impels us to do so.  When we find within a hitherto unknown ability to forgive, to love someone who doesn’t love us in return, it is the Spirit who has taken hold of us.  When we move beyond mere self-serving words and turn to our brothers and sisters with that tenderness which warms the heart, we have indeed been touched by the Holy Spirit.
It is true that the Holy Spirit brings forth different charisms in the Church, which at first glance, may seem to create disorder.  Under his guidance, however, they constitute an immense richness, because the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of unity, which is not the same thing as uniformity.  Only the Holy Spirit is able to kindle diversity, multiplicity and, at the same time, bring about unity.  When we try to create diversity, but are closed within our own particular and exclusive ways of seeing things, we create division.  When we try to create unity through our own human designs, we end up with uniformity and homogenization.  If we let ourselves be led by the Spirit, however, richness, variety and diversity will never create conflict, because the Spirit spurs us to experience variety in the communion of the Church.

                The diversity of members and charisms is harmonized in the Spirit of Christ, whom the Father sent and whom he continues to send, in order to achieve unity among believers.  The Holy Spirit brings unity to the Church: unity in faith, unity in love, unity in interior life.  The Church and other Churches and ecclesial communities are called to let themselves be guided by the Holy Spirit, and to remain always open, docile and obedient.

                Ours is a hopeful perspective, but one which is also demanding.  The temptation is always within us to resist the Holy Spirit, because he takes us out of our comfort zone and unsettles us; he makes us get up and drives the Church forward.  It is always easier and more comfortable to settle in our sedentary and unchanging ways.  In truth, the Church shows her fidelity to the Holy Spirit in as much as she does not try to control or tame him.  We Christians become true missionary disciples, able to challenge consciences, when we throw off our defensiveness and allow ourselves to be led by the Spirit.  He is freshness, imagination and newness.

                Our defensiveness is evident when we are entrenched within our ideas and our own strengths – in which case we slip into Pelagianism – or when we are ambitious or vain.  These defensive mechanisms prevent us from truly understanding other people and from opening ourselves to a sincere dialogue with them.  But the Church, flowing from Pentecost, is given the fire of the Holy Spirit, which does not so much fill the mind with ideas, but enflames the heart; she is moved by the breath of the Spirit which does not transmit a power, but rather an ability to serve in love, a language which everyone is able to understand.

                In our journey of faith and fraternal living, the more we allow ourselves to be humbly guided by the Spirit of the Lord, the more we will overcome misunderstandings, divisions, and disagreements and be a credible sign of unity and peace.

                With this joyful conviction, I embrace all of you, dear brothers and sisters: the Syro-Catholic Patriarch, the President of the Bishops’ Conference, the Apostolic Vicar Monsignor Pelȃtre, the Bishops and Eparchs, the priests and deacons, religious, lay faithful, and believers from other communities and various rites of the Catholic Church.  I wish to greet with fraternal affection the Patriarch of Constantinople, His Holiness Bartholomew I, the Syro-Orthodox Metropolitan and the Armenian Apostolic Patriarchal Vicar, as well as the representatives of the Protestant communities, who have joined us in prayer for this celebration.  I extend to them my gratitude for this fraternal gesture.  I wish also to express my affection to the Armenian Patriarch, His Beatitude Mesrob II, assuring him of my prayers.

                Brothers and sisters, let us turn our thoughts to the Virgin Mary, Mother of God.  With her, who prayed with the Apostles in the Upper Room as they awaited Pentecost, let us pray to the Lord asking him to send his Holy Spirit into our hearts and to make us witnesses of his Gospel in all the world.  Amen!

Source: http://en.radiovaticana.va/news/2014/11/29/pope_throw_off_our_defensiveness_and_be_led_by_the_spirit/1112892

Istanbul bishop: Pope visiting an unseen Christian community


A poster displayed outside of a Catholic church in Istanbul welcomes Pope Francis, who will meet with Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople, right, on his trip to Turkey. (CNS/Nathalie Ritzmann)

National Catholic Reporter, Nov. 27, 2014 - One unique aspect of Pope Francis' visit to Turkey this weekend? That some in the overwhelmingly Muslim country may not even know there are Christians here for the pontiff to visit.

Illustrating that point in an interview Thursday, the bishop who leads Istanbul's Latin Rite Roman Catholic community said a Turk stopped him a few days ago as he was heading to church to ask why the building had a bell that was ringing.

"I said it was to ask for prayer," said Bishop Louis Pelâtre. "He said, 'I am Muslim; we don't do that.' I said, 'You are Muslim, I am Christian."

"Not everybody can understand it," said Pelâtre. "They think here, in Turkey, they think everybody is Muslim."

"They know there are Christians, but they do not know they are here," he continued. "For them it is something special, something outside the ordinary life."

Pelâtre, who serves as the apostolic vicar for the Latin Rite community in Istanbul, was speaking in an NCR interview ahead of the pope's visit to Turkey Friday-Sunday.

After landing in the political capital of Ankara Friday afternoon to greet Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Francis will spend Saturday and Sunday in the historic Christian center of Istanbul, largely focusing his time on meetings with Orthodox Christian leader Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew.

Throughout the visit, the pontiff will find himself in a different environment from the European Christian context. A country of some 76 million, 97 percent of Turkey's population identifies with the Islamic faith and there are estimated to be less than 150,000 Christians in the country.

Pelâtre's community, however, is even smaller. One of four main Catholic groups in Istanbul in full communion the Roman Catholic church -- among Armenian Catholics, Syrian Catholics, and Chaldean Catholics -- there are estimated to be just 15,500 Latin Rite Catholics in the city.

Pelâtre, a native of France who has lived in Turkey for 44 years and served in his role in Istanbul for 22, said that many Latin Rite Catholics who historically lived in Istanbul have now emigrated abroad. Much of his community, the bishop said, is composed of refugees from other parts of the world -- primarily Africa and other parts of Asia.

Because the community is so small, said the bishop, it cannot offer refugees all they need.
"The refugees are in need of everything," said Pelâtre. "But we do not have the possibility to give them enough. We have [the Catholic aid agency] Caritas here, but it is not sufficient."

But the biggest problem facing the Latin Rite community in Istanbul, said Pelâtre, is that the Turkish government does not recognize them legally.

While the Turkish constitution protects freedom of belief, most Christian churches are not designated as places of worship and are instead legally instituted as cultural places or centers of association. The Latin Rite community, however, does not even have that recognition.

Pelâtre said that means his community does not have legal title to the 12 parishes it operates in Istanbul.

"Our problem is the problem of property, because we are not recognized as a community under the law," said the bishop.

"Everyone talks about religious freedom," he continued. "I say it's not a problem of religious freedom."

"We have freedom of worship here," he said. "Inside of the church, we can do what we want. Outside of the church we don't have any freedom -- not any."

Recalling how one person had summarized the situation to him, Pelâtre said: "We have the water as we want but we have not the cups to drink water with. What can we do?"

"It is a big problem when we need to have restoration or repair of the churches," said the bishop. "It is always difficult to get permission from the municipality."

Asked if he thought the pope might raise some of these issues with the Turkish president in their meeting, Pelâtre said he did not think so.

"It's not the time and the place for that," he said.

Mostly, said Pelâtre, the pope's visit "is an opportunity to share who is the pope, what is the Catholic church. Because some Muslims don't know that."

After visiting Ankara Friday, Francis will head to Istanbul Saturday morning, where he will say Mass for the Latin Rite Roman Catholic community at their Cathedral of the Holy Spirit.

The pontiff will then host an ecumenical prayer and have a private meeting with Orthodox leader Bartholomew, considered "first among equals" in Eastern Orthodox Christianity.

The meeting with be the third for Francis and Bartholomew, following the patriarch's historic visit to Rome in 2013 for Francis' inauguration and their joint trip to the Holy Land last May.

The two are to meet again Sunday for lunch, after signing an expected joint declaration about the visit.

[Joshua J. McElwee is NCR Vatican correspondent. His email address is jmcelwee@ncronline.org. Follow him on Twitter: @joshjmac.]

Friday, November 28, 2014

Pope Francis condemns “barbaric” violence by fundamentalists against minorities

Vatican Radio - Speaking on the first day of his visit to Turkey, Pope Francis condemned the “barbaric violence” waged by fundamentalists in Iraq and Syria against entire communities, especially Christians and Yazidis, because of their ethnic and religious identity. His remarks came in a speech to Turkey’s Department for Religious Affairs which is the nation’s highest Islamic authority. As religious leaders, Pope Francis said, we are obliged to denounce all violations against human dignity and human life and “any violence which seeks religious justification warrants the strongest condemnation.”

Following is the text of Pope Francis’ speech to the Department for Religious Affairs:

Mr President,
Religious and Civil Authorities,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am pleased to meet with you today in the course of my visit to your country. I thank the President of this distinguished office for his cordial invitation which affords me the opportunity to share these moments with political and religious leaders, both Muslim and Christian.

It is a tradition that Popes, when they visit different countries as part of their mission, meet also with the leaders and members of various religions. Without this openness to encounter and dialogue, a Papal Visit would not fully correspond to its purposes. And so I have wished to meet you, following in the footsteps of my venerable predecessors. In this context, I am pleased to recall in a special way Pope Benedict XVI’s visit to this very same place in November 2006.

Good relations and dialogue between religious leaders have, in fact, acquired great importance. They represent a clear message addressed to their respective communities which demonstrates 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.

Wars cause the death of innocent victims and bring untold destruction, interethnic and interreligious tensions and conflicts, hunger and poverty afflicting hundreds of millions of people, and inflict damage on the natural environment – air, water and land.

Especially tragic is the situation in the Middle East, above all in Iraq and Syria. Everyone suffers the consequences of these conflicts, and the humanitarian situation is unbearable. 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. Particular concern arises from the fact that, owing mainly to an extremist and fundamentalist group, entire communities, especially – though not exclusively – Christians and Yazidis, have suffered and continue to suffer barbaric violence simply because of their ethnic and religious identity. They have been forcibly evicted from their homes, having to leave behind everything to save their lives and preserve their faith. This violence has also brought damage to sacred buildings, monuments, religious symbols and cultural patrimony, as if trying to erase every trace, every memory of the other.

As religious leaders, we are obliged to denounce all violations against human dignity and human rights. Human life, a gift of God the Creator, possesses a sacred character. As such, 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.

As well as denouncing such violations, we must also work together to find adequate solutions. This requires the cooperation of all: governments, political and religious leaders, representatives of civil society, and all men and women of goodwill. In a unique way, religious leaders can offer a vital contribution by expressing the values of their respective traditions. We, Muslims and Christians, are the bearers of spiritual treasures of inestimable worth. Among these we recognize some shared elements, though lived according to the traditions of each, 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. Recognizing and developing our common spiritual heritage – through interreligious dialogue – helps us to promote and to uphold moral values, peace and freedom in society (cf. JOHN PAUL II, Address to the Catholic Community in Ankara, 29 November 1979). 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. In this regard, I wish to express my appreciation for everything that the Turkish people, Muslims and Christians alike, are doing to help the hundreds of thousands of people who are fleeing their countries due to conflicts. There are two million. This is a clear example of how we can work together to serve others, an example to be encouraged and maintained.

I wish also to express my satisfaction at the good relations which exist between the Diyanet and the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue. 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. And also after my discussions with the President, I hope that this dialogue becomes creative in new forms.
Mr President, I renew my gratitude to you and your colleagues for this meeting, which fills my heart with joy. I am grateful also to each one of you, for your presence and for your prayers which, in your kindness, you offer for me and my ministry. For my part, I assure you of my prayers. May the Lord grant us all his blessing.

Source: Vatican Radio and Abouna.org

Pope Francis in Turkey: Day 1 highlights

Pope Francis shakes hands with the head of Turkey's Department of Religious Affairs, Mehmet Gormez (L.) - AP

(Vatican Radio) On the first day of his apostolic trip to Turkey, Pope Francis said religious leaders “are obliged” to denounce violence in the name of religion. He also appealed for more international assistance for the thousands of refugees from nearby Iraq and Syria, who have taken refuge in Turkey.

Upon arriving in Ankara on Friday afternoon, the Pope stopped at a mausoleum, where the remains of Turkey’s founder are buried—part of protocol for all visiting heads of state—before visiting with President Recep Tayip Erdogan at the Presidential Palace and with the head of the country’s Department of Religious Affairs, Mehmet Gormez.

Vatican Radio journalist Philippa Hitchen is on the ground, covering the Pope’s three-day apostolic journey. She shared the highlights of the first day in a nutshell.

On Saturday, the Pope will travel to Istanbul, where he is expected to visit several historic sites, including Santa Sofia, a former basilica, which had been converted into a mosque in the 15th century and is now a museum. He is then expected to visit one of Istanbul’s most important mosques, the Sultan Ahmet, also known as the “Blue Mosque”. He is scheduled to celebrate Mass at the Catholic Holy Spirit Cathedral in the afternoon.

The evening is to include ecumenical prayer at the Greek Orthodox Cathedral of St George, followed by a private meeting with Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I.

Source: http://en.radiovaticana.va/news/2014/11/28/pope_francis_in_turkey_day_1_highlights/1112836

Spotlight on ecumenical and interfaith relations in Turkey

Pope Francis and Patriarch Bartholomew - RV
26/11/2014 03:38
(Vatican Radio) Catholic-Orthodox relations and dialogue with the Muslim world are the two main issues under the spotlight as Pope Francis travels to the Turkish capital of Ankara on Friday for his 6th international journey. The Pope will then spend Saturday and Sunday in Istanbul where he was invited by the Orthodox leader, Ecumenical Patriarch, Bartholomew 1st  to celebrate the feast of St Andrew on November 30th.

Just six months ago, the two leaders met in Jerusalem and signed a joint declaration marking half a century since the lifting of mutual excommunications and the beginning of a new era of improved relations between the Catholic and Orthodox Churches. So what are the expectations ahead of this latest encounter in the Patriarch’s headquarters at the Phanar in Istanbul? And how can the tiny Christian minority in Turkey help to promote better relations with the wider Muslim world?

To find answers to those questions, Philippa Hitchen spoke with Dominican Father Claudio Monge, director of a Centre for Cultural and Interreligious Dialogue in Istanbul….

Fr Claudio says Patriarch Bartholomew is a very important point of reference for the Christian world vis-à-vis the Turkish authorities and the Turkish state. At the same time, he notes that while the Orthodox leader has really fraternal relations with many people in the Catholic Church, that friendship is not always shared within the wider Greek-Orthodox community…..

While Fr Claudio believes the meeting in Turkey may not significantly change the relationship between the two local churches, he says there is a wider importance as both Catholics and Orthodox pray for the pan-Orthodox Synod that Bartholomew is trying to organize for 2016. “We are convinced that this is not only a very important goal for the Orthodox world, but for the whole of Christianity, in Europe and in the Middle East,” Fr Claudio says, since improved relationships between the different Orthodox churches may help them “ to give a new face, a new hope to the Christians in this area, that is majority Islamic, Islamic area.”

Regarding the role of interfaith dialogue in Turkey today, Fr Claudio says it’s not possible to talk about Christian –Muslim dialogue as a “dialogue of systems”. The Islamic world, he says, is very, diverse, very complex and real dialogue is always dialogue between believers who can meet together “in daily life for the common question of living together, but also for spiritual and even theological reasons.” Fr Claudio says he’s increasingly convinced that “real believers are concerned of the importance to be together as believers, witnesses of a new hope in a world that suffers a lot, a world that is characterized by violence, and where human life and dignity are very often forgotten.” It is a huge task, he continues, to build bridges between believers and although religion may be instrumentalized by a  populist political vision, more and more people are against such exploitation, preferring to see religion as “ a resource to build a new relationships between countries and people.”

Asked if he believes the Pope’s words can have any impact on the political situation in the region, Fr Claudio says: “I think so…… I am more and more convinced that for example as Christian and Muslims, we define God as creator. And it’s more and more difficult to accept, among real believers, that a creator can destroy and can let lives be destroyed in such a way….. The challenge, he says, is how to translate and give shape at political level to this “ very deep feeling” but he says  more and more people are saying--- “Not in my name”—the famous hashtag that many Muslim people all over the world started a few weeks ago speaking for example about violence and so on..”

Source: http://en.radiovaticana.va/news/2014/11/26/spotlight_on_ecumenical_and_interfaith_relations_in_turkey/1112554