In his weekly general audience Pope Francis recalled the activities of his recent trip to Turkey, and prayed that the visit would lead to a more fruitful ecumenical and interreligious dialogue.
“Dear brothers and sisters, with joy I wish to recall the trip that I made to Turkey, and I pray that it will contribute to an ever more fruitful dialogue and relationship with our Orthodox and Muslim brothers and sisters,” the Pope told those present in St. Peter’s Square for his Dec. 3 address.
The pontiff made his Nov. 28-30 apostolic voyage to Ankara and Istanbul largely at the invitation of the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, Bartholomew I, who invited the Pope to participate in celebrations surrounding the feast of St. Andrew, the patron and founder of the Orthodox churches.
“I thank God for the blessing of my recent pilgrimage to Turkey,” he said, noting how the country is known and “so dear” to Catholics due to its rich historical roots linked to Christianity.
Pope Francis recalled his meeting with local authorities in Ankara, and voiced his appreciation for “the attention and respect” with which they welcomed him.
The encounter was an “opportunity to reaffirm the need for states to recognize the public relevance of religious faith and to guarantee everyone the freedom of worship,” he said, noting that he was also able to voice his desire for Muslims and Christians “to work together for solidarity, peace and peaceful coexistence.”
While in Istanbul, the Pope noted how during his Nov. 29 Mass at the city’s Holy Spirit Cathedral he was able to meet with the leaders and faithful of different Catholic rites, and pray for the Holy Spirit’s guidance in pursuing unity.
“We invoked the Holy Spirit so that the People of God, in the diversity of their traditions, grow in openness, docility and obedience to his divine action,” he observed.
On the last day of this trip, which marked the feast of St. Andrew the Apostle, the Roman Pontiff signed his second joint declaration with Patriarch Bartholomew, which he said reaffirmed “our commitment to the restoration of full communion.”
“Together we signed a declaration, renewing the commitment to continue along the path of the restoration of full communion between Catholics and Orthodox, aware that prayer is the foundation for fruitful ecumenical dialogue,” the Pope continued.
He concluded his address by asking those gathered to join him in prayer for this communion, specifically that the Church would grow in her zeal to proclaim Christ’s message of truth, peace and love through respectful and fraternal dialogue.
“May the preparation of the birth of the Lord, in this time of Advent, make us grow in love for Jesus and in the desire to communicate him to others,” he prayed, and offered his greetings to pilgrims present from different countries around the world.
In a statement issued on Monday Dr. Rinaldo Marmara, spokesman for the Episcopal Conference of Turkey, thanked Pope Francis on behalf of the entire Catholic community for his visit to the country.
“Thank you, Pope Francis, for the gift of your visit in Turkey where you could encounter not only a hard-working and generous people, but also a living Christian community,” Marmara said.
Although local Catholics in Turkey are a small minority, the spokesman assured the pontiff of their awareness that they belong to a much larger reality that gives them the courage, strength and hope to face the daily challenges of living their Christian witness.
Marmara also thanked the Bishop of Rome for his personal testimony in showing them the path of dialogue with other Christian communities, as well as with “our Muslim brothers.”
“The Catholics of Turkey make (their own) your invitation to further and promote a mutual understanding with all the religious communities present in the country, and to appreciate what we have in common.”
Also giving thanks for the pontiff’s reminder that true peace is founded on the respect for human rights and dignity, the spokesman said Turkey’s Catholics also adopt his invitation to be protagonists in the country’s interreligious and intercultural dialogue.
The goal of this dialogue, he noted, is to “promote that solidarity among believers that is at the basis of a healthy social cohesion.
He closed the letter by assuring the Roman Pontiff that the entire Catholic community of Turkey is praying for his Petrine ministry, and asked that the Pope also remember to pray for them.