Pope meets with diplomatic corps, emphasizes need for intercultural cooperation

.- Concluding his first day in Turkey, Pope Benedict XVI met this evening with members of the international diplomatic corps at the Apostolic Nunciature in Ankara.  The Pope emphasized the need for continued intercultural and interreligious cooperation in order to bring an end to terrorism and regional conflicts as well as to find solutions to problems of economic inequality, oppression, and disease.

Following an introduction from Bishop Antonio Lucibello, Apostolic Nuncio to Turkey, and a greeting from the Vice-Dean of the Diplomatic Corps, Ambassador Georges H. Siam, of Lebanon, the Pontiff expressed his appreciation and thanks for the work done by the many diplomats to Turkey.

Pope Benedict said that based upon the Gospel message and the work of the Second Vatican Council, “we have come to realize that true peace needs justice, to correct the economic imbalances and political disturbances which always give rise to tension and threaten every society.”

“The recent developments in terrorism and in certain regional conflicts have highlighted the need to respect the decisions of international institutions and also to support them, in particular by giving them effective means to prevent conflicts and to maintain neutral zones between belligerents, through the presence of peacekeeping forces,” he continued.

“All this, however, remains insufficient unless there is authentic dialogue, that is to say fruitful debate between the parties concerned, in order to arrive at lasting and acceptable political solutions, respectful of persons and peoples,” the Pope added.

“I am thinking,” he said, “most especially of the disturbing conflict in the Middle East, which shows no sign of abating and weighs heavily on the whole of international life; I am thinking of the risk of peripheral conflicts multiplying and terrorist actions spreading.

The Holy Father offered his appreciation to the work being done in the name of peace, by numerous countries around the world, and especially in Lebanon.  However, he reminded the diplomats that there is still much work that urgently needs to be done.  

“In your presence, Ambassadors, I appeal once more to the vigilance of the international community, that it not abandon its responsibilities, but make every effort to promote dialogue among all parties involved, which alone can guarantee respect for others, while safeguarding legitimate interests and rejecting recourse to violence,” the Pope said. “As I wrote in my first World Day of Peace Message, ‘the truth of peace calls upon everyone to cultivate productive and sincere relationships; it encourages them to seek out and to follow the paths of forgiveness and reconciliation, to be transparent in their dealings with others, and to be faithful to their word’ (1 January 2006, 6).

“Turkey, has always served as a bridge between East and West, between Asia and Europe, and as a crossroads of cultures and religions,” the Pope said, reiterating an idea he had previously touched upon during his trip. “During the last century, she acquired the means to become a great modern State, notably by the choice of a secular regime, with a clear distinction between civil society and religion, each of which was to be autonomous in its proper domain while respecting the sphere of the other.”

Religious liberty

Pope Benedict acknowledged the significant Muslim population of the country, but emphasized the Turkish Constitution’s recognition of, “every citizen’s right to freedom of worship and freedom of conscience.”

“The civil authorities of every democratic country are duty bound to guarantee the effective freedom of all believers and to permit them to organize freely the life of their religious communities,” the Pope emphasized. “Naturally it is my hope that believers, whichever religious community they belong to, will continue to benefit from these rights, since I am certain that religious liberty is a fundamental expression of human liberty and that the active presence of religions in society is a source of progress and enrichment for all.

“This assumes, of course, that religions do not seek to exercise direct political power, as that is not their province, and it also assumes that they utterly refuse to sanction recourse to violence as a legitimate expression of religion. In this regard, I appreciate the work of the Catholic community in Turkey, small in number but deeply committed to contributing all it can to the country’s development, notably by educating the young, and by building peace and harmony among all citizens.

As I have recently observed, "we are in great need of an authentic dialogue between religions and between cultures, capable of assisting us, in a spirit of fruitful co-operation, to overcome all the tensions together" (Address to the Ambassadors of Countries with a Muslim Majority, Castel Gandolfo, 25 September 2006). This dialogue must enable different religions to come to know one another better and to respect one another, in order to work for the fulfillment of man’s noblest aspirations, in search of God and in search of happiness. For my part, on the occasion of my visit to Turkey, I wish to reiterate my great esteem for Muslims, encouraging them to continue to work together, in mutual respect, to promote the dignity of every human being and the growth of a society where personal freedom and care for others provide peace and serenity for all. In this way, religions will be able to play their part in responding to the numerous challenges currently facing our societies. Assuredly, recognition of the positive role of religions within the fabric of society can and must impel us to explore more deeply their knowledge of man and to respect his dignity, by placing him at the centre of political, economic, cultural and social activity. Our world must come to realize that all people are linked by profound solidarity with one another, and they must be encouraged to assert their historical and cultural differences not for the sake of confrontation, but in order to foster mutual respect.

The Church in the world

While the Catholic Church does not desire to have a direct role in the political and economic life of the world, the Pope continued, “by virtue of her mission and her long experience of the history of societies and cultures, she wishes to make her voice heard in international debate, so that man’s fundamental dignity, especially that of the weakest, may always be honored.”

“Given the recent development of the phenomenon of globalized communications, the Holy See looks to the international community to give a clearer lead by establishing rules for better control of economic development, regulating markets, and fostering regional accords between countries,” Benedict said.

“The voice of the Church on the diplomatic scene is always characterized by the Gospel commitment to serve the cause of humanity,” the Pontiff continued.  Noting the, “extraordinary development of science and technology, with almost immediate consequences for medicine, agriculture and food production, but also for the communication of knowledge,” the Holy Father offered a challenge to, “re-position modern progress within the continuity of our human history and thus to guide it according to the plan written into our nature for the growth of humanity.”

Co-operation with the Orthodox Church

The Pontiff concluded his speech by mentioning the relationship between the Catholic and Orthodox Churches, which was the initial priority of his visit to Turkey.  “As my thoughts turn to the first Christian communities that sprang up in this land, and especially to the Apostle Paul who established several of them himself,” the Pope said, “allow me to quote from his Letter to the Galatians: ‘You were called to freedom, brethren; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love be servants of one another’ (5:13).”

“I sincerely hope that the good relations between nations, which it is your task to serve, may also contribute increasingly to the genuine growth of humanity, created in the image of God. Such a noble goal requires the contribution of all. For this reason the Catholic Church intends to renew its co-operation with the Orthodox Church and I hope that my forthcoming meeting with Patriarch Bartholomew I at the Phanar will effectively serve this objective,” the Pope said.

“As the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council emphasized, the Church seeks to cooperate with believers and leaders of all religions, and especially with Muslims, in order that together they may ‘preserve and promote peace, liberty, social justice and moral values’ (Nostra Aetate, 3). I hope, from this viewpoint, that my journey to Turkey will bring abundant fruits.”

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