|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.