In his address to bishops from the Episcopal Conference of Turkey, who are visiting the Vatican for their “ad limina” visit, Pope Benedict XVI stressed that it is up to the Turkish State to “provide effective guarantees that all citizens and all religious communities may enjoy freedom of worship and religion.”
“In this context,” explained the Pope, “I am well aware of your desire and readiness to open a sincere dialogue with the authorities in order to find a solution to the various problems your communities have to face, such as recognition for the juridical status of the Catholic Church and her property."
He then stressed that the Turkish Christian community “lives in a nation governed by a constitution that affirms the lay nature of the State, but where the majority of the population is Muslim. For this reason it is very important for Christians and Muslims to work together to promote humanity, life, peace and justice.”
“The distinction between the civil and the religious sphere is clearly a value that deserves to be protected," he said.
Examining the religious sphere more closely, the Holy Father explained that within the Church “the people of God will find an effective support for their faith and hope.” The bishops, he added, are “primarily responsible for the concrete realization” of a union between the “diversity of rites” in the Turkish Church.
The Pontiff also noted that the visit of the bishops “is providentially taking place in the year dedicated to St. Paul” and assumes a particular importance because the prelates “are pastors…in the land where the Apostle of the Gentiles was born and where he founded many communities.”
Given the special emphasis brought by the Pauline Year, the Pope noted that many are traveling to see “the sites so dear to the Christian tradition.” “My wish,” he said, “is that they may find easier access to those places which are so significant for the Christian faith, and to liturgical celebrations.”
Benedict XVI also recalled the “rich history” of the Church in Turkey which is marked “by the development of the first Christian communities” and by the likes of St. John and St. Ignatius of Antioch. More recently, the Church has also seen the witness of Fr. Andrea Santoro, an Italian priest killed in the Turkish city of Trabzon on February 5, 2006, Pope Benedict said.
"May this prestigious history be for your communities - the vigor of whose faith and abnegation under trial I am well aware - not only a reminder of a glorious past, but also a stimulus to continue with generosity along the journey you have begun, bearing witness among your brothers and sisters to God's love for all human beings," Benedict XVI prayed.
Wrapping up his address, the Holy Father asserted that inter-religious dialogue “cannot but have positive consequences for everyone. It would be appropriate for permanent contacts to be established, for example through a bilateral commission, in order to study as-yet unresolved questions."