Iraq and Syria: “Religious minorities suffer barbaric violence”

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During his visit to the Diyanet, Turkey’s Presidency of Religious Affairs, Francis called for mutual respect and friendship among religious leaders, as these values “represent a clear message” to “respective communities”. The Pope condemned the acts of “extremist and fundamentalist group”, ISIS.

Beyond Turkey’s borders, religious minorities, particularly Christians and Yazidis, have suffered and continue to “suffer barbaric violence”. There is a need for more dialogue and mutual respect and friendship among religious leaders, as a message religious leaders should pass on to their respective communities. The second important event for today too place this afternoon in the Diyanet, the Turkish Presidency of Religious Affairs, the highest Islamic religious authority in the country, which is located in a large newly-built mosque on the outskirts of Ankara.

Francis was received by the President of the Diyanet, Mehmet Görmez. In the opening speech he addressed to the Pope, the Islamic leader said: “Those who act against Islam’s message of peace, those who spread violence and brutality, following the wrong path, rebel against God no matter what name they identify themselves with.” Görmez criticised Israel for its treatment of the Palestinian people and the media which “spread messages about scenes of violence”, fuelling “hatred against Muslims”. “Let us reject all forms of violence and try to build a common future together,” he concluded.

“Without this openness to encounter and dialogue, a Papal Visit would not fully correspond to its purposes,” the Pope pointed out in his own speech. “Good relations and dialogue between religious leaders have, in fact, acquired great importance. They represent a clear message addressed to their respective communities which demonstrates that mutual respect and friendship are possible, notwithstanding differences.” Looking beyond Turkey’s borders, Francis said: “Wars cause the death of innocent victims and bring untold destruction, interethnic and interreligious tensions and conflicts, hunger and poverty afflicting hundreds of millions of people, and inflict damage on the natural environment – air, water and land. Especially tragic is the situation in the Middle East, above all in Iraq and Syria. Everyone suffers the consequences of these conflicts, and the humanitarian situation is unbearable. “

“I think of so many children,” the Pope said, “the sufferings of so many mothers, of the elderly, of those displaced and of all refugees, subject to every form of violence. Particular concern arises from the fact that, owing mainly to an extremist and fundamentalist group, entire communities, especially – though not exclusively – Christians and Yazidis, have suffered and continue to suffer barbaric violence simply because of their ethnic and religious identity. They have been forcibly evicted from their homes, having to leave behind everything to save their lives and preserve their faith. This violence has also brought damage to sacred buildings, monuments, religious symbols and cultural patrimony, as if trying to erase every trace, every memory of the other.”

“As religious leaders,” Francis stressed, addressing Islamic dignitaries, “we are obliged to denounce all violations against human dignity and human rights. Human life, a gift of God the Creator, possesses a sacred character. As such, any violence which seeks religious justification warrants the strongest condemnation because the Omnipotent is the God of life and peace. The world expects those who claim to adore God to be men and women of peace who are capable of living as brothers and sisters, regardless of ethnic, religious, cultural or ideological differences.”

“As well as denouncing such violations, we must also work together to find adequate solutions. This requires the cooperation of all: governments, political and religious leaders, representatives of civil society, and all men and women of goodwill.” “We, Muslims and Christians,” Francis went on to say, “are the bearers of spiritual treasures of inestimable worth. Among these we recognize some shared elements, though lived according to the traditions of each, such as the adoration of the All-Merciful God, reference to the Patriarch Abraham, prayer, almsgiving, fasting… elements which, when lived sincerely, can transform life and provide a sure foundation for dignity and fraternity.”

“Recognizing and developing our common spiritual heritage – through interreligious dialogue – helps us to promote and to uphold moral values, peace and freedom in society. The shared recognition of the sanctity of each human life is the basis of joint initiatives of solidarity, compassion, and effective help directed to those who suffer most.” Francis did not fail to express his appreciation “for everything that the Turkish people, Muslims and Christians alike, are doing to help the hundreds of thousands of people who are fleeing their countries due to conflicts. There are two million. This is a clear example of how we can work together to serve others, an example to be encouraged and maintained.” The Pope concluded his speech with words of gratitude: “I am grateful also to each one of you, for your presence and for your prayers which, in your kindness, you offer for me and my ministry.”

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By Andrea Tornielli