Speaking to the thousands of pilgrims gathered in the Vatican’s Paul VI Hall today, Pope Benedict XVI recalled his recent apostolic trip to Turkey and explained how the visit served what he called the three “concentric circles” of his Pontifical mission.
"The Pope's journeys also contribute to the accomplishment his mission," began Benedict XVI, a mission he described as being divided into "concentric circles."
“In the innermost circle,” the Holy Father explained, "Peter's Successor confirms Catholics in the faith, in the intermediate circle he meets other Christians, and in the outermost circle he addresses non-Christians and humanity entire."
Part of this latter circle, the Holy Father went on, was the first day of his journey to Turkey, when he met with the civil authorities. These meetings were "a very important part of my visit, above all because Turkey is a country with a very big Muslim majority, but regulated by a constitution affirming the laicism of the State. Consequently, the country is emblematic of the great challenge facing the world today: on the one hand ... rediscovering the reality of God and the public importance of religious faith and, on the other, guaranteeing that the expression of faith remains free, repudiating all forms of violence and not degenerating into fundamentalism."
The Pope recalled how, during his trip, he had stressed the importance of "joint Christian and Muslim commitment ... in favor of life, peace and justice, reiterating that the distinction between the civil and religious spheres constitutes a value and that the State must guarantee ... effective freedom of worship.”
“In the field of inter-religious dialogue,” the Pope continued, “an initially unplanned gesture, but one that revealed itself as particularly significant, was my visit to the famous Blue Mosque of Istanbul. Pausing in meditation for a few minutes in that place of prayer, I addressed myself to the One Lord of heaven and earth.”
On the second day, in Ephesus, Benedict XVI recalled how, "in the 'innermost circle' of my journey, in direct contact with the Catholic community, in a climate of peace, we prayed for peace in the Holy Land and in the whole world."
The "intermediate circle," that of ecumenical relations, occupied the central part of the visit. "In the footsteps of Paul VI and of John Paul II," Benedict XVI and the Ecumenical Patriarch His Holiness Bartholomew I renewed "the mutual commitment to continue along the path towards the re-establishment of full communion between Catholic and Orthodox.”
Pope Benedict noted that his and Patriarch Bartholomew’s signing of a Joint Declaration was the ratification of a firm intention to take further steps in the direction of establishing full communion.
He also recalled how he met the patriarch of the Armenian Apostolic church, the Syro-Orthodox metropolitan, and the chief rabbi of Turkey.
The visit concluded, the Pope recalled, with a return to the "innermost circle," in other words "meeting the Catholic community ... in Istanbul's Latin Cathedral of the Holy Spirit," where he celebrated a Mass also attended by Christians of other rites, Orthodox and Protestants.
"Comforted by the Word of Christ," said Pope Benedict, "we lived a renewed experience of Pentecost."
In conclusion, the Holy Father called upon the Lord to help "the Turkish people, their leaders and the representatives of the various religions to build a future of peace together, so that Turkey may be a 'bridge' of friendship and fraternal collaboration between West and East."