In-flight Press Conference from Istanbul to Rome

Pope Francis

30 November 2014


Yasemin Taskin, Turkish television: President Erdogan spoke about “Islamophobia”. Naturally, you reflected more on the current “Christianophobia” in the Middle East, which is effecting both Christians and minorities. Taking interreligious dialogue into consideration as well, what more can be done? That is, is interreligious dialogue enough? Can more be done? And in your opinion, what must world leaders do? As you are not only the spiritual leader of Catholics, but also a moral leader on a global scale, what can be done concretely, is it possible to go further?

Pope Francis: You’ve asked a book’s worth of questions! I would like to say something with respect to Islamophobia, Christianophobia and interreligious dialogue.

On Islamophobia:It’s true that there has been a reaction to these acts of terrorism, not just in this region but in Africa as well: “If this is Islam it makes me angry!”. So many Muslims feel offended, they say: “But that is not what we are. The Quran is a prophetic book of peace. This is not Islam”. I can understand this. And I sincerely believe that we cannot say all Muslims are terrorists, just as we cannot say that all Christians are fundamentalists – we also have fundamentalists among us, all religions have these small groups. I told the President [Erdogan] that it would be good to issue a clear condemnation against these kinds of groups. All religious leaders, scholars, clerics, intellectuals and politicians should do this. This way they hear it from their leaders’ mouth. There needs to be  international condemnation from Muslims across the world.  It must be said, “no, this is not what the Quran is about!”. This is the first thing.

On Christianophobia: It’s true, I’m not going to soften my words, no. We Christians are being chased out of the Middle East. In some cases, as we have seen in Iraq, in the Mosul area, they have to leave or pay a tax which then makes no sense. And other times they push us out wearing white gloves. For example, in one country, a husband lives in one place and his wife in another…. No, let the man come and live with his wife. No, no: let the woman leave, and leave the house free. This is happening in several countries. It’s as if they wished that there were no more Christians, that nothing remain of Christianity. In that region this is happening. It’s true, it’s first of all a result of terrorism, but when it’s done diplomatically with white gloves, it’s because there’s something behind it. This is not good.

Third, on interreligious dialogue: I had what was probably the most wonderful conversation about this with the President for Religious Affairs and his team. When the new Turkish Ambassador to the Holy See came to deliver his Letters of Credence, over a month and a half ago, I saw an exceptional man before me, a man of profound piety. The President of that office was of the same school. They said something beautiful: They said: “Right now it seems like interreligious dialogue has come to an end. We need to take a qualitative leap, so that interreligious dialogue is not merely: ‘What do you think about this?’ ‘We….’ We need to take this qualitative leap, we need to bring about a dialogue between religious figures of different faiths”.  This is a beautiful thing: men and women who meet other men and women and share experiences.  We are not just talking about theology but religious experience. And this would be a beautiful step forward, beautiful. I really enjoyed that meeting. It was excellent.

Getting back to the first two aspects, especially Islamophobia, there should  always be a distinction between what a religion proposes and the concrete practice of that proposal by any specific government. One may say: “I’m Muslim” – “I’m Jewish” –“I’m Christian”. But you govern your country not as Muslim or Jewish or Christian. There’s an abyss. The distinction must be made, because so often the name is used but the reality does not reflect what the religion says. I’m not sure if I’ve answered ….

Esma Cakir, Information Agency of Turkey: What was the significance of that moment of such intense prayer that you had in the Mosque? Was it, for you, a way of turning to God? Is there something in particular that you would like to share with us?

Pope Francis: I went to Turkey as a pilgrim, not a tourist. And I went especially for today’s feast. I went precisely in order to celebrate it with Patriarch Bartholomew. It was for a religious reason. But then, when I entered the Mosque, I couldn’t say: now, I’m a tourist! No, it was completely religious. And I saw that wonder! The Mufti explained things very well to me, with such meekness, and using the Quran, which speaks of Mary and John the Baptist. He explained it all to me…. At that moment I felt the need to pray. So I asked him: “Shall we pray a little?”. To which he responded: “Yes, yes”. I prayed for Turkey, for peace, for the Mufti, for everyone and for myself, as I need it … I prayed, sincerely…. Most of all, I prayed for peace, and I said: “Lord, let’s put an end to these wars!”. Thus, it was a moment of sincere prayer.

Pope Francis: A cordial farewell, and my best wishes.  May you go forward, providing a better understanding of all that is happening in the world. My best wishes, and may the Lord bless you.  And I thank you for your kindness and please, don’t forget to pray for me. I need it. Thank you.

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