VATICAN CITY, JAN 19, 2007 (VIS) - This morning in the Vatican, Benedict XVI received the Letters of Credence of Muammer Dogan Akdur, the new Turkish ambassador to the Holy See. In his French-language address to the diplomat, the Holy Father reiterated his gratitude to the authorities and the people of Turkey for the welcome they showed him during his apostolic visit to the country in December last year.
Pointing out that his trip had led him in the footsteps of his predecessors Paul VI and John Paul II, Benedict XVI noted that it had also given him the opportunity "to witness the good relations" between Turkey and the Holy See. And he recalled how, in his meetings with political leaders in Turkey, he had sought to reaffirm "the presence of the Catholic Church in Turkish society, thanks to the important heritage of the first Christian communities of Asia Minor" and the "existence of today's Christian communities, clearly minorities but dedicated to the country and to the common good of all society, and desirous of making their contribution to the construction of the nation."
"While enjoying the religious freedom guaranteed to all believers by the Turkish Constitution, the Catholic Church wishes to benefit from a recognized juridical statute, and to see the start of official dialogue between the episcopal conference and the State authorities in order to resolve any problems that may arise and maintain good relations between both sides. I do not doubt that the government will do everything in its power to progress in this direction."
The Holy Father then went on to underline how during his "memorable visit" to Turkey he had repeatedly expressed "the Catholic Church's respect for Islam, and the esteem in which the Pope and the faithful hold Muslim believers."
"In the modern world, in which tensions seem to be increasing," he observed, "the Holy See is convinced ... that believers from different religions must make every effort to work towards peace, beginning with the rejection of violence, which in the past was often used on religious pretexts, and learning to understand and respect one another. ... Furthermore, religions can unite their forces to promote respect for human beings ... and for the fundamental rights that rule the lives of individuals and societies."
"The Holy See recognizes Turkey's specific role, and its geographical and historical status of being a bridge between the continents of Europe and Asia and a crossroads of cultures and religions," said the Holy Father. He also expressed the Holy See's appreciation for Turkey's commitment "in favor of peace at the heart of the international community," and particularly "its efforts towards the resumption of negotiations in the Middle East" and its aid in Lebanon "for the reconstruction of a country devastated by war and for the furtherance of constructive dialogue between all sides of Lebanese society."
In this context the Pope reaffirmed the Holy See's interest in "efforts being made by nations to regulate, ... sometimes with the help of other countries and of regional and international authorities, situations of conflicts inherited from the past," and in initiatives in favor of bringing countries closer together. "The universalization of exchanges, already evident in the economic and financial field, must obviously be accompanied by joint political commitments in order to guarantee organized and lasting development that excludes no one and ensures all peoples a harmonious future."
Benedict XVI concluded his address by asking the ambassador to pass on his greetings to the Catholic communities in Turkey, as well as to the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I and the faithful of the Orthodox Church "to whom," he said, "we are bound by so many fraternal ties."