Pope Francis Press Conference on Flight from Turkey (Part I)

“I went there, to Turkey, I came as a pilgrim, not as a tourist.”

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Here is Part I of the transcript of the Holy Father’s press conference with journalists aboard his flight from Apostolic Visit to Turkey. 

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(Father Lombardi)

So, Holiness, thank you so much for being with us; thank you so much for the very kind and friendly greeting you have expressed to all, to each one of us. Now we pass to the second part, the cultural, the one with the questions. We have some persons who have put themselves on the list, and in the first place we have the two Turkish colleagues, who are, of course , interested because the questions we expect will be about the trip. It is a trip in which you have done so many things, so we can reflect further on many aspects. At this point I invite Yasemin to come to ask the first question. Yasemin is from Turkish television; she has already made a trip here with Pope Benedict, so she is an expert on Papal trips to Turkey.

(Yasemin Taskin)

Good evening, Your Holiness. My question is, of course, about the trip. President Erdogan spoke of “Islamophobia”; you, naturally, reflected more on the present Christianophobia in the Middle East, what is happening to Christians, to the minorities. Considering, also, the call for interreligious dialogue, what more can be done? That is, is interreligious dialogue enough? Can we go further? And, in your opinion, what should world leaders do? I ask you this because you are not only the spiritual head of Catholics, but you are now a global moral leader and, therefore, I would like to know concretely in this connection what can be done, if we can go beyond …

(Pope Francis)

You have asked enough questions to fill a book! I would like to say something about interreligious dialogue, about Islamophobia and about Christianophobia: these three things.

On Islamophobia: it’s true that in front of these terrorist acts, not only in this area but also in Africa, there is a reaction that says: “If this is Islam it makes me angry!” And so many Muslims are offended, so many, so many Muslims. They say: “No, we are not this. The Koran is a book of peace; it is a prophetic book of peace. This isn’t Islam.” I understand this and I believe that – at least I believe, sincerely – that one cannot say that all Muslims are terrorists; this cannot be said. As it cannot be said that all Christians are fundamentalists, because we also have them, in all religions there are this little groups. I said to President [Erdogan]: “It would be good if all Muslim leaders — be they political leaders, religious leaders or academic leaders – spoke clearly and condemn those acts, because this would help the majority of the Muslim people to say “no”; but truly, from the mouth of their leaders: the religious leader, the academic leader, many intellectuals, and political leaders.” This was my reply. Because we are all in need of a global condemnation, also by Muslims, who have that identity; it is for them to say: “We are not among those. The Koran is not this.” This is the first thing.

Christianophobia: It’s true! I don’t want to sugar-coat words, no. We, Christians, are thrown out from the Middle East. Sometimes, as we saw in Iraq, in the region of Mosul, they must go and leave everything, or pay the tax, which is then of no use … And at other times we are thrown out carefully. For instance, in one State, a couple, the husband lives here, the woman lives there … No, the husband must come to live with the woman. No, no: the woman must not go and leave the house free. This happens in some countries. It’s as if they wished that Christians be there no longer, that nothing Christian should remain. This is happening in that region. It’s true, it’s an effect of terrorism, in the first case, but when it is done diplomatically, with white gloves, it’s because there is something else behind, and this isn’t good.

And the third — the interreligious dialogue. I had, perhaps, the best conversation, the best in this connection, with the President of Religious Affairs and his team. Already when the new Ambassador of Turkey came, a month and a half ago, to present his Letters of Credence, I saw an exceptional man, a man of profound religiosity. And the President of that office was of the same school. And they said something lovely: “Now it seems that interreligious dialogue has come to an end. We need to raise the bar; we must dialogue with religious people of different faiths.” This is good, because it is a man and a woman who meet with a man and a woman and exchange their experiences: they don’t just talk about theology; they talk about their religious experience. And this would be a most beautiful, most beautiful step forward. I enjoyed that meeting. It was of high quality.

Returning to the two first aspects, especially that of Islamophobia. We must always distinguish between the proposal of a religion and the concrete use that is made of that proposal by a specific government. Perhaps someone says: “I am Muslim – I am Jewish – I am Christian.” However, you govern your country not as a Muslim, not as a Jew, not as a Christian. There is an abyss. This distinction must be made, because the name is used, but the reality is not that of religion. I don’t know if I have answered …

(Yasemin Taskin)

Thank you, Your Holiness.

(Father Lombardi)

You have answered very abundantly. Now Esma [Cakir] wants to come, our second Turkish lady on this trip. She is from the News Agency.

(Esma Cakir)

Good evening, Your Holiness. What was the meaning of that moment of very intense prayer that you had in the Mosque? Was it for you, Holy Father, a way of turning to God? What in particular would you like to share with us?

(Pope Francis)

I went there, to Turkey, I came as a pilgrim, not as a tourist. And I came, specifically – the main reason was today’s feast: I came, in fact, to share it with Patriarch Bartholomew, I came for a religious reason. But then, when I went to the Mosque, I could not say: ”No, now I am a tourist.” No, it was all religious. And I saw that marvellous place! The Mufti explained this well to me, showing me great meekness, and quoted the Koran, when talking about Mary and of John the Baptist; he explained everything to me … At that moment, I felt the need to pray. And I said: Shall we pray a while?” – ‘Yes, yes,” he said. And I prayed: for Turkey, for peace, for the Mufti … for all … for me, who am in need … I prayed, truly … And I prayed for peace above all. I said: “Lord, let’s put an end to these wars …” So it was a moment of sincere prayer.

(Father Lombardi)

Now we ask our Orthodox member of the team, who is Alezey Bukalov, one of our older people, who has made so many trips: he is Russian and he is Orthodox. And then he wondered if he could ask a question, given that it was a trip in which relations with the Orthodox were fundamental.

(Alexey Bukalov)

Thank you. Thank you, Father Lombardi, Holiness, in thanking you for what you do for the Orthodox world, I would like to know: after this visit, and after this extraordinary meeting with the Patriarch of Constantinople, what prospects are there for contacts with the Patriarchate of Moscow? Thank you.

(Pope Francis)

Last month, on the occasion of the Synod, [Metropolitan] Hilarion came as delegate of Patriarch Kirill. He wished to speak with me, not as a delegate to the Synod, but as President of the Commission for Orthodox-Catholic Dialogue. We spoke a bit.

First I will say something on the whole of Orthodoxy, and then I will “come” to Moscow. I think we are on the way with Orthodoxy. They have the Sacraments, they have the apostolic succession … we are on the way. What must we expect? That the theologians come to an agreement? That day will never come, I can assure you, I am skeptical. The theologians work well, but I remember what Athenagoras said to Paul VI: “ “Let us put theologians on an island to discuss among t
hemselves and we’ll just get on with things!” I thought it was something that wasn’t true, but Bartholomew said to me: No, it’s true, he did say it.” We cannot wait. Unity is a path, a path that must be followed, that we must do together. And this is spiritual ecumenism: to pray together, to work together, to do so many works of charity, so much work that needs to be done … To teach together … To go forward together. This is spiritual ecumenism. Then there is the ecumenism of blood, when they kill Christians; we have so many martyrs … beginning with those of Uganda, canonized 50 years ago: half were Anglicans, half were Catholics; however, those [who killed them] did not say: “you are a Catholic … You are an Anglican …” No: “You are a Christian,” and their blood was mingled. This is the ecumenism of blood. Our martyrs are crying out to us: “We are one! We already have unity in spirit and also in blood.” I don’t know if I have recounted here the anecdote of Hamburg, of the parish priest of Hamburg … Have I told it? When I was in Germany, I had to go to Hamburg to do a Baptism. And the parish priest was going forward the cause of canonization of a priest who was guillotined by the Nazis because he taught catechism to children. And, at a certain point, in doing that study, he discovered that behind him, in the queue, was a Lutheran pastor condemned to the guillotine for the same reason. The blood of the two was mingled. And this parish priest went to the Bishop and said: “I’m not going forward with this cause only for the priest: either for the two of them or for no one!” This is ecumenism of the blood, which helps so much, which says so much. And I believe we must go courageously on this path. Yes, share university chairs, this is done, but forward, forward …

I will say something that perhaps someone might not understand, but … The Eastern Catholic Churches have the right to exist, it’s true. However, Uniatism is a word of another age. Today we cannot speak this way. Another way must be found.

Now we “land” at Moscow. With Patriarch Kirill, I made him know and he is also in agreement, that there is the will to meet with one another. I said to him: “I will go wherever you wish. You call me, and I will come”; and he also has the same will. However, in these last times, with the problem of the war, the poor soul has so many problems there, that the trip and meeting with the Pope passed to the second plane. However, we both want to meet and we want to go ahead. Hilarion suggested, for a study meeting, that he has this Commission of which he is President on the Russian Orthodox side, to reflect further on the subject of Primacy, because the question must go forward, which John Paul II made: help me to find a solution to the primacy issue that is also acceptable to the Orthodox Churches.” This is what I can say to you.

(Alexey Bukalov)

Thank you, Your Holiness.

(Pope Francis)

Thank you.

Part II will be published tomorrow, December 2nd, 2014.

[Translation by ZENIT]
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