Pope Benedict XVI- General Audiences

General Audience
Evaluation of Turkish Trip
"The Affection and Cordiality That Surrounded Me "
H.H. Benedict XVI
December 6, 2006

Dear Brothers and Sisters:

As is already customary after every apostolic journey, in this general audience I would like to review the different stages of the pilgrimage I made to Turkey from Tuesday to Friday of last week. A visit that, as you know, did not seem easy from several points of view, but which God supported from the start and that in this way was able to unfold happily. Therefore, just as I had asked that it be prepared and supported with prayer, now I ask you to join me in thanking the Lord for its development and conclusion.

I entrust to him the fruits that I hope will result from it, be it for relations with our Orthodox brothers or for dialogue with Muslims.

In the first place, I feel the duty to renew my cordial gratitude to the president of the republic, to the prime minister, and to the other authorities, who welcomed me with so much courtesy and ensured the necessary conditions so that all would unfold in the best way.

I give thanks fraternally to the bishops of the Catholic Church in Turkey and to their collaborators for all they have done.

I address special gratitude to Patriarch Bartholomew I, who welcomed me in his home, to Armenian Patriarch Mesrob II, to Syro-Orthodox Metropolitan Mor Filuksinos and to the other religious authorities.

Throughout the trip I felt particularly supported by my venerated predecessors, the Servants of God Paul VI and John Paul II, who undertook a memorable visit to Turkey, and especially to Blessed John XXIII, who was papal representative in that noble country from 1935 to 1944, leaving a memory full of affection.

Going back to the vision that the Second Vatican Council presents of the Church (cf. constitution "Lumen Gentium," Nos. 14-16), I might say that the Pope's trips also contributed to carry out his mission that takes place in "concentric circles." In the innermost circle the Successor of Peter confirms Catholic faithful in the faith, in the intermediate circle he meets the other Christians, and in the farthest out he addresses non-Christians and the whole of humanity.

The first day of my visit to Turkey took place in the ambit of this third "circle," the largest. I met with the prime minister, the president of the republic, and the president for religious affairs, addressing my first speech to the latter. I rendered homage at the mausoleum of the "father of the homeland," Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, and afterward I had the possibility to talk to the diplomatic corps in the Apostolic Nunciature of Ankara.

This intense series of meetings was an important part of the visit, especially because Turkey is a country which is predominantly Muslim, which is governed by a constitution that affirms the state's secularism. It is, therefore, a country which constitutes an emblem of the great challenge posed today at the world level. On one hand, it is necessary to rediscover the reality of God, the public importance of religious faith and, on the other, to guarantee that the expression of that faith is free, without fundamentalist degenerations and capable of rejecting firmly any form of violence.

Therefore, I had the suitable opportunity to renew my sentiments of esteem to Muslims and to the Islamic civilization. At the same time I was able to insist on the importance that Christians and Muslims commit themselves together in favor of the human being, of life, of peace and of justice, reaffirming that the distinction between the civil and religious spheres constitutes a value and that the state must guarantee to the citizens and the religious communities effective freedom of worship.

In the ambit of interreligious dialogue, Divine Providence allowed me to carry out, almost at the end of my trip, a gesture that initially was not foreseen and which revealed itself extremely significant: the visit to the Blue Mosque in Istanbul. Remaining recollected for a few minutes in that place of prayer, I turned to the only Lord of heaven and earth, merciful Father of the whole of humanity, and implored that all believers might recognize themselves as creatures and give witness of authentic fraternity!

The second day took me to Ephesus, and I thus found myself rapidly in the innermost "circle" of the trip, in direct contact with the Catholic community. In Ephesus, in fact, in a pleasant place called "Nightingale's Hill," looking over the Aegean Sea, is the Shrine of Mary's House. It is an ancient and small chapel that has arisen around the little house that, according to a very ancient tradition, the Apostle John built for the Virgin Mary, after going with her to Ephesus. Jesus himself had entrusted them to one another when, before dying on the cross, he said to Mary: "Woman, behold, your son!" and to John :"Behold, your mother!" (John 19:26-27).

Archaeological investigations have demonstrated that this place has been since time immemorial a place of Marian devotion, loved also by Muslims, who go there regularly to venerate her whom they call "Meryem Ana," Mother Mary. In the garden next to the shrine I celebrated holy Mass for a group of faithful who had come from nearby Izmir and other parts of Turkey, as well as from abroad. We felt truly "at home" in "Mary's House," and in that atmosphere of peace we prayed for peace in the Holy Land and throughout the world. There I wished to remember Father Andrea Santoro, a Roman priest, a witness of the Gospel on Turkish soil with his blood.

The intermediate "circle," that of ecumenical relations, occupied the central part of my trip, on the occasion of the feast of St. Andrew, on November 30. This celebration served as an ideal context to consolidate fraternal relations between the Bishop of Rome, Successor of Peter, and the ecumenical patriarch of Constantinople, a Church founded according to tradition by the Apostle St. Andrew, brother of Simon Peter. Following in Paul VI's footsteps, who met with Patriarch Athenagoras, and of John Paul II, who was welcomed by Athenagoras' successor, Dimitrios I, I renewed together with His Holiness Bartholomew I this gesture of great symbolic value to confirm the mutual commitment to continue on the path toward the re-establishment of full communion between Catholics and Orthodox.

To sanction this firm intention I signed along with the ecumenical patriarch a "Joint Declaration," which is a further stage on this path.

It was extremely significant that this act took place at the end of the solemn liturgy of the feast of St. Andrew, which I attended and which concluded with the double blessing imparted by the Bishop of Rome and by the patriarch of Constantinople, successors respectively of the Apostles Peter and Andrew. In this way we manifested that prayer is always at the base of every ecumenical effort and the persevering invocation of the Holy Spirit.

In this same ambit, in Istanbul, I had the joy of visiting the patriarch of the Armenian Apostolic Church, His Beatitude Mesrob II, and of meeting the Syro-Orthodox metropolitan. In this context, I remember with pleasure the conversation I had with the Grand Rabbi of Turkey.

My visit ended, exactly before returning to Rome, by returning to the innermost "circle," that is, meeting with the Catholic community present with all its constituents in the Latin Cathedral of the Holy Spirit in Istanbul. Also attending this holy Mass were the ecumenical patriarch, the Armenian patriarch, the Syro-Orthodox metropolitan and representatives of the Protestant churches. In short, all Christians were gathered in prayer, in the diversity of their traditions, rites and languages. Comforted by the Word of Christ, who promises believes "rivers of living water" (John 7:38), and by the image of the many members united in only one body (cf. 1 Corinthians 12:12-13), we lived the renewed experience of Pentecost.

Dear Brothers and Sisters: I have returned to the Vatican with my spirit full of gratitude to God and with sentiments of sincere affection and esteem for the inhabitants of the beloved Turkish nation, by whom I have felt welcomed and understood. The affection and cordiality that surrounded me, despite the inevitable difficulties that my visit caused to the normal unfolding of daily activities, remain with me as an intense memory that leads me to pray. May the Almighty and Merciful God help the Turkish people, its political leaders and the representatives of the religions to build together a future of peace so that Turkey can be a "bridge" of friendship and fraternal collaboration between West and East.

Let us pray, moreover, so that through the intercession of Mary Most Holy, the Holy Spirit will make this apostolic journey fruitful, and encourage throughout the world the mission of the Church, instituted by Christ to proclaim to all peoples the Gospel of truth, peace and love.

[Translation by ZENIT]

[At the end of the audience, the Holy Father greeted pilgrims in several languages. In English, he said:]

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Today I invite you to join me in thanking God for the success of my recent Apostolic visit to Turkey. On my first day I met civic representatives, and reminded them of the great need to rediscover God and the public relevance of faith, while ensuring that such faith is properly understood and lived authentically. In expressing my esteem for Islamic civilization, I urged Christians and Muslims to work together for peace, justice and life! The following day I visited Ephesus and the sanctuary nearby where, according to an ancient tradition, the Apostle John constructed a house for the Virgin Mary. During Mass we prayed for peace in the Holy Land and the whole world. The feast of Saint Andrew was dedicated to consolidating fraternal relationships between the Bishop of Rome and the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople. In signing a Joint Declaration, we reaffirmed our commitment to follow the path of full communion between Catholics and Orthodox. My visit was concluded in the Cathedral of the Holy Spirit in Istanbul, where Christians from various traditions, gathered in prayer, experienced a renewed Pentecost! Full of gratitude and affection for the people of Turkey, I invite you all to pray that country may enjoy a peaceful future, as a bridge of friendship between the West and the East!

I welcome all the English-speaking pilgrims here today, including the student groups from America, Australia and Denmark. May your Advent visit to Rome be a time of renewed hope and joy. Upon all of you, I invoke God's abundant Blessings!

Copyright 2006 -- Libreria Editrice Vaticana


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