Pope Francis, on the first day of his three-day trip to Turkey, condemned the “barbaric violence” committed by the Islamic State group, or ISIS, against religious minorities in Syria, and said that military action against the group was justified. Francis also urged greater interfaith dialogue to combat extremism during a speech at the presidential palace in the capital city of Ankara, according to media reports.
“As religious leaders, we are obliged to denounce all violations against human dignity and human rights… As such, any violence which seeks religious justification warrants the strongest condemnation because the Omnipotent is the God of life and peace,” he reportedly said, addressing Turkish religious officials at the country’s Religious Affairs Directorate on Friday. “Especially tragic is the situation in the Middle East, above all in Iraq and Syria.”
Francis reiterated concerns voiced earlier by the Vatican over the expulsion and executions of religious minorities in Iraq and Syria, including thousands of Christians who, he reportedly said, “have been forcibly evicted from their homes, having to leave behind everything to save their lives and preserve their faith.”
“Grave persecutions have taken place in the past and still continue today to the detriment of minorities, especially — though not only — Christians and Yazidis,” Francis reportedly said.
In his first visit to the predominantly Muslim nation, Francis also urged greater “inter-religious and intercultural dialogue” to counter extremism, and said that the crisis in the Middle East could not be resolved by military action alone, according to media reports.
“Fanaticism and fundamentalism, as well as irrational fears, which foster misunderstanding and discrimination, need to be countered by the solidarity of all believers,” Francis reportedly said, during a meeting with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. “This solidarity must rest on the following pillars: respect for human life and for religious freedom, that is the freedom to worship and to live according to the moral teachings of one’s religion; commitment to ensuring what each person requires for a dignified life; and care for the natural environment.”
The pope also praised Turkey’s efforts in sheltering nearly 1.6 million refugees, who have fled the advance of ISIS in Syria, and said that the international community had a “moral obligation” to assist Turkey in taking care of the refugees.