Pope Urges Full Religious Freedom in Turkey

Notes Nation’s Role as Bridge Between Islam and West

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VATICAN CITY, JAN. 7, 2010 (Zenit.org).- While Catholics in Turkey enjoy religious freedom, they are still waiting for civil juridical recognition, Benedict XVI pointed out to the nation’s new envoy to the Holy See.

The Pope discussed relations between the two states today upon receiving in audience Ambassador Kenan Gursoy. The Pontiff also touched upon his trip to Turkey in 2006, and the country’s role in resolving conflict in the Middle East.

The Holy Father noted that Turkey and the Holy See established diplomatic relations almost 50 years ago. While he acknowledged that “much has been achieved” during the past years, the Pontiff expressed a desire to continue making the ties between the two sides “deeper and stronger.”

Noting that the Christian communities in Turkey “appreciate the freedom of worship that is guaranteed by the Constitution,” Benedict XVI noted that the Church is still waiting for juridical recognition.

“This would help her to enjoy full religious freedom,” the Pope said, “and to make an even greater contribution to society.”

According to the Pontiff, the Christian communities in Turkey, while a small minority, contribute “to the well-being of their fellow citizens, especially through involvement in charitable activity and healthcare.”

He noted as examples the work of the La Paix and St. Georges hospitals in Istanbul to assist the poor.

“In order that these worthy endeavors may flourish, I am sure your Government will continue to do what it can to see that they receive whatever support may be needed,” the Holy Father stated.

According to the Holy See’s Statistical Yearbook, in this country of approximately 72 million inhabitants, 99% are Muslims. Catholics number about 32,000, or 0.04% of the population.

Benedict XVI underlined the “significant contribution” Christianity has made to Turkey, and noted that Christians are “proud to play their part, conscious of their ancient heritage.”

In 2006, the Pontiff visited Turkey in response to an invitation of the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, Bartholomew I.

Dialogue

In his address to the nation’s ambassador, the Holy Father said his trip was the first as Pope to a “predominantly Islamic country,” and that he was grateful for the opportunity to “express my esteem for Muslims.”

He said that during his visit to Turkey he was also able to “reiterate the commitment of the Catholic Church to carry forward interreligious dialogue in a spirit of mutual respect and friendship, bearing joint witness to the firm faith in God that characterizes Christians and Muslims, and striving to know one another better so as to strengthen the bonds of affection between us.”

“It is my fervent prayer that this process will lead to greater trust between individuals, communities, and peoples, especially in the troubled areas of the Middle East,” Benedict XVI added.

The Pope called Turkey, a secular democratic state that is geographically placed between Europe and Asia, a “bridge between Islam and the West.”

He said the country is perfectly situation “to make a significant contribution to the effort to bring peace and stability to the Middle East.”

The Holy Father said the Holy See has taken note “numerous initiatives” Turkey has already undertaken in this regard, “and is eager to support further efforts to put an end to long-standing conflicts in the region.”

“As history has so often shown,” the Pontiff continued, “territorial disputes and ethnic rivalries can only be satisfactorily resolved when the legitimate aspirations of each party are duly taken into account, past injustices acknowledged and, when possible, repaired.”

Benedict XVI then assured the envoy of the “high priority that the Holy See gives to the search for just and lasting solutions to all the conflicts of the region, and of its readiness to place its diplomatic resources at the service of peace and reconciliation.”

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Full text: www.zenit.org/article-27984?l=english

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