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
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.
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.