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Friday, November 28, 2014

Pope Francis takes on challenges - is it just me or does he look like he enjoys his job?

Turkey-  "... three evangelical missionaries were murdered, as were a Catholic priest and a bishop. In addition, anti-Christian prejudice is intense in the Turkish media."

Syria - a framented Third World War- Pope Francis

Pope Francis waves in Saint Peter's square at the Vatican. The pope heads to Turkey on Friday, a country with few Catholics, but he plans to reach out to Muslims and to the Orthodox Church.

I swear, Pople Francis seems to look younger as a Pope than he did when we knew him as a Cardinal from Argentina. Contrast Pope Francis and his vigor facing challenges, with his predecessor who appeard to carry the burdon of being Pope like the chains of St. Peter being dragged back to Rome to face Crucifixion.

Reaching out to Turkey's predominantly Muslim people isn't a job for the meek.  Nevertheless, Turkey is where the Byzantine  Orthodox Christians have shrines and sanctuaries. Supposedly, the Apostles took refuge in Turkey with Mary, the mother of Jesus, after the Resurrection, to protect her from persecution. A Marion Shrine is located in Turkey, it's at the place where Mary was until her Assumption into heaven.  

Therefore, Turkey certainly seems like a natural place for Pope Francis to begin a dialogue with Muslims. This is especially timely, because the Pope is seeking advice about how to remove the terrorist factions within Islamic extremism. 

National Public Radio (NPR) reports that Orthodox Christians are very excited about the visit, says Robert Mickens, editor in chief of Global Pulse magazine. "There is something very compelling about Francis, he is seen by other Christians, leaders and people, as somebody very special, a harbinger of a better future among the different Christian denominations," he says.

In the Muslim world, Francis has a great deal of credibility.

He won points last year for his opposition to Western military strikes against President Bashir Assad's regime in Syria and for signaling sympathy for Palestinian suffering by stopping to pray at the security barrier while visiting Israel last May.

One of the visit's thorniest issues will be the plight of Christian minorities in Turkey, which long presented itself as a model of moderation and tolerance in the Muslim world.

In recent years, three evangelical missionaries were murdered, as were a Catholic priest and a bishop. In addition, anti-Christian prejudice is intense in the Turkish media.


Moreover, Turkey bans the training of Orthodox priests, and makes it very hard for foreign clergy to get residency or work permits.

"It is of course very sad story because this is a negation of the basic right of religious freedom. If you don't have the formation of clergy, how can you sustain a church life? It is impossible," says Mustafa Aydin, a Turk who heads a center for inter-faith dialogue in Rome.

And there's the issue of the Orthodox seminary that's been shut down since 1971 – despite Turkish President Recep Erdogan's promises that it would be re-opened.


John Allen, longtime Vatican analyst, now with the Boston Globe, says the pope has the opportunity to challenge the president publicly.

"(He can) look at Erdogan in the eyes and say, 'Mr. Erdogan, re-open this seminary,'" Allen says. "That will become the litmus test as to whether Erdogan is truly serious about protecting religious pluralism and protecting Turkey's secular moderate heritage."

Just across Turkey's borders, fighting rages in what Pope Francis has called the "fragmented Third World War."


It is a world war in bits and pieces with many spots of crisis," says veteran Vatican analyst Marco Politi. Politi expects the pope will reiterate his vehement denunciations of the so-called Islamic State that has carried out massacres of Christians, Muslims and other minorities in the region.

"Certainly Pope Francis will stress the distinction between Islam as religion and violent, terrorist, fundamentalist groups who abuse and manipulate religion for political purposes," he says.

But it's the dwindling number of Christians in the Middle East who will be listening most closely to what the pope has to say, says John Allen.

"Is he going to be able to move the ball in some concrete way to give Christians in Turkey and Christians in Middle East a sense that they have a future in this region?," Allen says. "Right now the vast majority of them, they feel that they have been given a death sentence, and most of them are looking for ways to get out."

Francis has also expressed interest in a visit to border areas near Iraq or Syria to meet refugees. Up to now, Turkish officials have ruled it out on the grounds of security.

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