05 February 2018
Francis urges Turkish President to pursue peace
Following the meeting Pope Francis presented President Erdogan with a medallion depicting an 'angel of peace' strangling the 'demon of war'
Pope Francis used a meeting with the President of Turkey on Monday to discuss the status of Jerusalem and urge the Turkish leader to pursue peace instead of war.
At the conclusion of the 50-minute audience, lengthy by papal standards, Francis presented President Recep Tayyip Erdogan with a medallion depicting an “angel of peace” strangling the “demon of war.”
It was a gift that issued an implicit message: the pugnacious Turkish leader who has dominated the political landscape of his country for more than 15 years should build peace in the Middle East thought negotiated political settlements rather than military action.
Turkey occupies a crucial strategic role as a bridge between the east and Europe but has faced criticism recently after launching a series airstrikes on Kurdish forces in Syria. This has added a further complication for the United States military campaign against Islamic State.
Last week the Istanbul-based Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew !, who is close to Pope Francis on environmental issues, praised Turkey's military campaign against the Kurds. "We pray that you and the Turkish armed forces will achieve success and that Operation Olive Branch will ... bring peace to the area," he wrote in a letter published by Turkey's Hurriyet daily.
The meeting today was the first in the Vatican between Francis and President Erdogan and takes place after a 29 December phone call between the two. During that call they discussed President Donald Trump’s decision for the United States to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, a move that threatens to further destabilise the Middle East.
3,500 police were deployed for President Erdogan’s visit - the first by Turkey’s leader to the Vatican in 59 years - while the Italian government ordered a ban on protests. Nevertheless, a small group of Kurdish protesters gathered near the Vatican to accuse the Turkish leader of being a “dictator,” a “criminal” and that he had “blood on his hands.” There were also reports of scuffles with the police.
The president arrived at a tightly cordoned off St Peter’s Square for his papal audience in a dark Mercedes with Turkish flags on either side at the end of a long motorcade which had weaved through Rome’s streets on a wet and grey morning.
His audience with the Pope took place in the library of the Vatican’s apostolic palace, the traditional room where Francis receives heads of state.
A Vatican statement issued following the meeting said discussions focussed on the “situation in the Middle East, with particular reference to the status of Jerusalem highlighting the need to promote peace and stability in the region through dialogue and negotiation, with respect for human rights and international law.”
Both President Erdogan and the Pope have expressed their concern about President Donald Trump’s Jerusalem decision, given it flouts long standing international agreements on bringing peace to the Holy Land.
The Holy See believes President Trump has added “fuel to the fire” in the Middle East and has repeatedly called for Israel and Palestine to come to a two-state solution.
President Erdogan was accompanied by a 20-strong delegation including his wife, daughter and five ministers, and at the beginning of their audience thanked the Pope for his “interest.”
At the end of the meeting, he gave the Pope a large ceramic painting showing a panorama of Istanbul, along with works by the 13th century Muslim theologian and mystic Mevlana Rumi.
The medallion which Francis gave the Turkish president was captioned “A World of Solidarity and Peace Founded on Justice”, and designed by Guido Vero, an Italian sculptor.
A description released by the Vatican explained that the angel “illustrates contemporary challenges”, such as bringing the “world’s northern and southern regions together and harmonising them while combating all disruptive forces, such as exploitation, intransigent opposition, new forms of colonialism, indifference, mistrust and prejudice.”
It is through the exchange of gifts that the Pope delivers messages to world leaders, and along with the medallion Francis also gave the president a copy of his encyclical “Laudato si’" and his message for this year's World Day of Peace. While the Pope normally also gives rosaries personally blessed by him to his guests, witnesses to the President Erdogan meeting say he refrained from doing so given the religious faith of those visiting.
Along with meeting the Pope, Erdogan also saw Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Holy See Secretary of State, and Archbishop Paul Gallagher, the Vatican’s foreign minister equivalent. Along with peace in the middle east other topics discussed included efforts to welcome refugees and “the condition of the Catholic community” in the Muslim majority country that self-describes as a secular state.
During his visit, Turkey’s leader is also due to meet with Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni where they are expected to discuss Ankara's bid for entry to the European Union.
PICTURE: Turkish President Erdogan with his wife Emine arrives at the Vatican for the visit with Pope Francis on February 5, 2018 in Vatican City ©PA
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