02/02/2009, 00.00
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Pope calls for genuine respect of religious freedom in Turkey

In receiving the country’s bishops, Benedict XVI expresses hope to see a joint commission set up to determine the Catholic Church’s legal status in the country. In his address he refers to the late Father Santoro and expresses satisfaction for the ecumenical nature of the Pauline Year.

Vatican City (AsiaNews) – In receiving Turkish bishops on their five-year ad limina apostolorum visit to the Vatican, Pope Benedict XVI called on the Turkish government  to guarantee genuine religious freedom in the ostensibly secular but predominantly Muslim state and to agree to a joint commission that would prepare the ground for the legal recognition of the Catholic Church in Turkey. In his address the Holy father also remembered Fr Andrea Santoro, the Roman Catholic priest killed on 5 February 2006.

“The Christian community in your country lives in a nation governed by a constitution that affirms the secular 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.”

However, it “is up to the State to provide effective guarantees that all citizens and all religious communities may enjoy freedom of worship and religion, making any violence against believers, whatever their religion may be, unacceptable. In this context, 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.”

“Such recognition,” Pope Benedict said, “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.”

In his address the Pope gave special attention to the celebration of the Pauline year in the country of his birth, expressing particular satisfaction for the ecumenical character given to celebrations.

“I know that in your country you have given particular emphasis to this Jubilee Year, and that many pilgrims are visiting the sites so dear to the Christian tradition,” he said. “I am also truly happy for the ecumenical dimension given to the Pauline Year. This shows the importance of this initiative for the other Churches and Christian communities. May this year allow for further progress along the path of unity of all Christians.”

The Pontiff also mentioned Fr Andrea Santoro when he talked about the major Christian figures connected with modern Turkey, from Saint John to Saint Ignatius of Loyola, from Saint Polycarp of Smyrna to “the many eminent Fathers of the Church, not to mention [the participants in] the Council of Ephesus which proclaimed the Virgin Mary to be Théotokos. More recently Benedict XV and the Blessed John XXIII marked the life of the nation and the Church in Turkey.”

“I also want to mention that every Christian, priests and laity, who bore witness to the charity of Christ, have sometimes made the ultimate sacrifice of their life, like Fr Andrea Santoro. May this impressive history be for your communities—the vigour of whose faith and abnegation under trial I am well aware—not only be a reminder of a glorious past, but also an incentive 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.”

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