Catholic, Orthodox, Muslim Leaders to Meet in Turkey, Nov 28-30

Pope Francis is scheduled to meet with Turkey’s highest officials, including President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, when he makes his trip to Ankara and Istanbul next month.

The Vatican’s the itinerary for the Pope’s November 28-30 trip, will also have Francis meeting and praying with Orthodox leaders. 

The Vatican seeks to become the world moral leader above all peoples and religions.

According to the Vatican press office, Pope Francis said he wished to “overcome through love and truth the obstacles that still divide us.” He made the remarks in his address to the Orientale Lumen Foundation.

He also said he hoped to build stronger ties between the two churches.

He will also visit the Hagia Sophia, a former Greek Orthodox patriarchal basilica, later an imperial mosque, and now a museum as well as the Blue Mosque, as the Sultan Ahmed Mosque is popularly known.

The Pope will hold a private meeting with Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew 1 in the run up to the feast of St. Andrew on November 30 which he will concelebrate with the patriarch.] Catholic News Service reported.

Both the Pope and the patriarch send delegations from their respective churches yearly for the feast of the churches’ patron saints: on June 29 at the Vatican for the feasts of Saints Peter and Paul, and on November 30 for the feast of Saint Andrew.

Pope Francis is scheduled to arrive in Ankara, the Turkish capital,l at 1 p.m (11.00 GMT) on November 28, in Ankara, and leave at 4.45 p.m. (14:45 GMT) on November 30 from Istanbul. on November 28, when he is slated to meet Erdogan, Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu and the head of the country’s religious affairs office, the country’s highest Muslim authority.

Francis will fly to Istanbul after a day in Ankara, and he is expected to visit the Hagia Sophia Museum, once known as the finest church during the Christian Byzantine Empire.

The Hagia Sophia became a mosque in the 15th century then authorities converted it into a museum in 1935 when Turkey became a secular state.

After Hagia Sophia, Francis will also visit the Blue Mosque popularly named because of its turquoise ceramic tiles in the 400-year-old structure’s interior.

.- The cardinal heading the Church’s council for Christian Unity has expressed his hope that Pope Francis’ upcoming visit to Turkey will help strengthen existing Catholic-Orthodox relations.

“The ecumenical vision of the patriarch is very helpful for me because we have some tendencies in the dialogue to avoid the theological questions and to handle other questions,” Cardinal Kurt Koch told CNA Oct. 22.

“His holiness, the patriarch, helped me to sustain that we have (the need) for theological dialogue between the Orthodox Church and the Catholic Church, (and) in this sense I think this visit can deepen our relationships,” he observed.

Cardinal Koch, who serves as the current president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, made his comments the day after the Vatican’s release of Pope Francis’ official itinerary for the trip.

The trip will take place Nov. 28-30, and falls just days after Pope Francis’ Nov. 25 address to the European Parliament in Strasbourg.

It will take place largely in response to an invitation sent to Pope Francis by Patriarch Bartolomew I of Constantinople, asking him to participate in the celebration of the feast of St. Andrew, patron of the Orthodox world.

While relations between Catholic and Orthodox Churches are already on good terms, the cardinal explained that the Pope’s trip will be an opportunity to take these relations further through dialogue on theological points of diversion.

“It’s a very difficult dialogue because now we are discussing the theme of primacy within the Church and above all the primacy of the bishop of Rome,” Cardinal Koch observed, noting that due to historical divisions, the process of unity is “a very big challenge.”

He also emphasized the importance of dialoging with Muslims, saying that although continuous Catholic-Orthodox dialogue is needed, Islam is an especially crucial topic of discussion for the Church today.

For constructive dialogue to occur, the cardinal explained that moderate Muslims must make a clear distinction between themselves and extremist groups in order to help Christians and other persecuted minorities in today’s contentious times.

“I think it’s very, very important not to damage the dialogue with Muslims, but they must confess where they stand, and above all I think it’s very important to have the common message that violence is not the sister of religion.”

“The sister of religion is holy peace,” he said, noting that this is a message clearly and strongly promoted by Benedict XVI during his pontificate, which continues with Pope Francis.

We have the experience of what St. John Paul II mentioned, the ecumenism of martyrdom, because all of the churches, the Orthodox Churches, the Evangelical Churches, the Catholic Churches in the Middle East have martyrs,” Cardinal Koch explained.

He drew attention to how the Church often refers to the blood of the martyrs as the seed which gives life to new Christians, and voiced his hope that the blood of the many modern day martyrs will be “the seed of the new unity between Christians.”

Prior to the announcement of his visit to Turkey, Pope Francis and Bartholomew I had already met numerous times. They issued a joint declaration during the Pope’s voyage to the Holy Land in May, and worked together in organizing an Invocation for Peace in the Middle East held at the Vatican Gardens June 8.

Bartholomew I has also been committed to organizing a pan-Orthodox synod, set to take place in 2016, in an attempt to transcend divisions between Orthodox Churches and to move towards an internal unity in favor of dialogue with Rome.

The close relation between Pope Francis and the Ecumenical Orthodox Patriarch have sparked rumors that they are collaborating on the Pope’s anticipated encyclical on ecology, making it a joint encyclical letter on the topic.


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