VATICAN CITY, SEPT. 27, 2005 ( In a message to the first Meeting of Civilizations, being held in Turkey, Benedict XVI emphasized that the dignity of the person must be at the heart of every civilization.

The Pope's words of "reconciliation and peace," read in the meeting by Archbishop Pier Luigi Celata, secretary of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, were applauded by Turkish Prime Minister Tayyp Erdogan, at the opening of the meeting Sunday. The event in the city of Antioch continues until Friday.

Attending the unprecedented meeting are representatives of various religions, some 1,000 experts in theology, history and sociology, as well as 40 ambassadors.

In his message, sent by Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Angelo Sodano and reported on Vatican Radio, the Holy Father invited the participants to promote "from the spiritual and cultural heritage of each one, the values that recognize the central character of the person and that promote understanding, respect and peace."

This attitude, says the papal message, is especially urgent in an era of globalization, "in which the danger might exist that fundamental human values are sacrificed in the name of progress or are lost because of destructive secular ideologies."

Worthy life

In this context, Benedict XVI reminded his audience of the importance of "the primacy of the dignity of the person, who is always at the heart of every genuine civilization."

Consequently, the Pope said that "the means and structures must be found that ensure the unconditional respect for all human life, in all its richness."

"May all have access to a worthy life," he wrote. "May all have security. May young people be formed in truth and with noble ideals. May cultural communications flower. And may religious freedom be protected, including that of minorities."

The Holy Father highlighted the links that unite Antioch with the followers of Jesus Christ, where they were called Christians for the first time. He indicated that the Gospel message is not limited to a single people, but exceeds all ethnic and cultural limits.

"It is a message of reconciliation and peace according to the plan of the Almighty for humanity," he concluded.

"Yes" to dialogue

In his address on Sunday, Prime Minister Erdogan invited his listeners to "say 'no' to the confrontation between civilizations and religions and 'yes' to dialogue and harmony."

"Terrorism cannot be attributed to a religion and this is the reason one cannot even speak of Islamic terrorism," he said. "Terrorism is a crime against humanity and therefore is outside every religion."

Some of the participants in the meeting referred to the difficulties between the various faiths in Turkey and the lack of full religious freedom in the country.

On Sept. 15 Turkish President Ahmet Necdet Sezer invited Benedict XVI to visit his country in 2006.