Pope Recalls His Recent Apostolic Trip to Turkey

Wednesday's general audience was celebrated in two locations, first in the Vatican Basilica in the presence of faithful from various Italian cities, then in the Paul VI Hall with pilgrims from other countries.

In the basilica, the Holy Father addressed a special greeting to faithful from dioceses in the Italian region of Lazio, come to Rome in the company of their bishops who are currently completing their ad limina visit. "I encourage you," he told them, "to intensify your life of faith, bearing in mind the guidelines that emerged recently from the meeting of the Italian Church at Verona."

"I am certain that courageous evangelizing activity," Benedict XVI continued, "will bring about the longed-for renewal of Catholic commitment in society, also in Lazio. The primary aim of evangelization is to indicate in Jesus Christ the Savior of all men and women. Never tire from entrusting yourselves to Him and announcing Him in your family lives and in all environments. This is what people, even today, expect from the Church."

The Holy Father then moved from the Vatican Basilica to the Paul VI Hall where the rest of the pilgrims were awaiting his arrival. His catechesis today was dedicated to his recent apostolic trip to Turkey which took place from November 28 to December 1.

"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, he 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, 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. To ratify that firm intention," the Pope said, "I and the ecumenical patriarch signed a Joint Declaration, that constitutes a further stage on this journey." 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."

The Holy Father concluded his memories of his trip by calling 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."

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