After being accorded a warm welcome by the Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan at the Presidential palace in Ankara, Pope Francis is scheduled to meet Christian and Muslim leaders of Istanbul as he arrives in the Turkish city on the second day of his three day visit to the country. The Pope had earlier condemned barbaric violence by ISIS. The Pope had earlier laid a wreath at the mausoleum of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founder of the modern Turkish republic republic.

Pope Francis with the Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan

The city of Istanbul (earlier known as Constantinople) was Byzantine capital till it was overrun by the Ottomans in 1453. The Pope will visit a mosque and hold mass at a Catholic cathedral in Istanbul.

Earlier, the pontiff had condemned the ISIS attacks on Christians and urged on the Muslim leaders of the state to take a stringer stand against groups with extremist tendencies. “In reaffirming that it is licit, while always respecting international law, to stop an unjust aggressor, I wish to reiterate, moreover, that the problem cannot be resolved solely through a military response,” he had said.

Pope Francis said on Friday that “fighting hunger and poverty, rather than military intervention alone, were key to stopping Islamist militants carrying out barbaric violence in Syria and Iraq.” He said that the offensive against terrorists was legitimate, but that military action was not a long-term solution. Reuters reported that, after meeting Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan the Pope said “it was lawful to stop an unjust aggressor” but urged a concerted commitment to devote resources “not to weaponry, but to the other noble battles worthy of man — the fight against hunger and sickness”.

Saying that “Any violence which seeks religious justification warrants the strongest condemnation,” he called for greater inter-faith dialogue over terrorism. “Particular concern arises from the fact that, owing mainly to an extremist and fundamentalist group, entire communities – especially, though not exclusively, Christians and Yazidis – have suffered and continued to suffer barbaric violence simply because of their ethnic and religious identity,” the Pope added.
Reuters also reported that, President Erdogan called for measures to prevent “escalating racism, xenophobia and Islamophobia in the West,” adding “the racist perception which associates Islam with terrorism deeply hurts billions of Muslims around the world”.

This is the fourth ever visit by a Pope to the country which has a predominantly Muslim population. Turkey is home to 80 million Muslims and about 120,000 Christians. He will begin his Istanbul visit with the Hagia Sofia, the most important Orthodox cathedral in the city, which was later turned into a mosque under the Ottoman rule and now houses a museum.

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