Pope Francis visited Turkey for the fourth time from November 28 to 30 on an apostolic trip to meet with civil, Muslim, and Orthodox leaders. Immediately after arriving at Esenboga Airport, he visited the mausoleum of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the founder of the Republic of Turkey, as Benedict XVI and St. John Paul II did before him. He then met with President Recep Tayyip Erdoǧan at the new presidential palace, who had recently spoken against the hypocrisy of the Western World when it comes to tolerating violent actions of Israel while never hesitating to denounce the Islamic world. The Pontiff praised him for having taken in Syriac refugees and promoted further religious tolerance and unity through dialogue in the face of fundamentalist Islamic groups such as ISIS.
Pope Francis met with Prof. Mehmet Görmez, the President of Diyanet, Turkey’s Presidency of Religious Affairs. Their public remarks to one another emphasized their lineage. Prof. Görmez noted
that as Vice President of Diaynet, he handled the messages of Benedict XVI to his predecessor, Ali Bardakoǧlu. As a gift, he gave Pope Francis an image of the letter Pope St. Pius X sent Sultan
Abdulhamit. Pope Francis also visited the Sultan Ahmed Mosque, more famously known as the Blue Mosque, and prayed alongside Grand Mufti Rahmi Yaran, the highest Muslim religious authority in
The Bishop of Rome also visited the Bishop of Constantinople, Patriarch Bartholomew, for the feast of the first bishop of Constantinople, St. Andrew, Apostle of Christ and brother of St. Peter. The Patriarch welcomed the Roman Pontiff and his efforts to reconcile the Old Rome and the New Rome. The Pope stated, “It is not in us, not in our commitment, not in our efforts that are certainly necessary but in our shared trust in God’s faithfulness which lays the foundation for the reconstruction of his temple that is the Church.” After their public discourse they met in private for about twenty minutes. Afterward, Pope Francis visited the Roman Catholic Cathedral of the Holy Spirit, where about two hundred people were awaiting his arrival. About 1,200 people heard the Mass, many of the attendees being Muslim.
Pope Francis attended the vesper service of the Feast of St. Andrew in the Cathedral of St. Gregory, after which he asked Patriarch Bartholomew for his blessing. The Patriarch made the sign of the cross and his forehead and kissed it. On the following day, at the end of Divine Liturgy, they signed a second joint declaration reaffirming their commitment to uniting the West and East. They emphasized the need for justice in the Middle East, the cradle of Christianity, where many communities have been professing the Christian faith for two thousand years and now suffer the horrors of war. They also called for dialogue with Muslim communities in hopes of achieving greater understanding. In regards to communion amongst Christians, the Pope said, “An authentic dialogue is, in every case, an encounter between persons with a name, a face, a past, and not merely a meeting of ideas.”
This visit went largely unnoticed by the 99% Muslim population of Turkey.