Pope Francis’s 3-day visit to Turkey (28-30 November) has had broad repercussions both in Turkey and the world. Beside the visit’s political aspects, it also had a historical significance in terms of efforts for dialogue and unification between the Catholic and Orthodox worlds.
The joint declaration signed following the Pope’s meeting with Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I has resonated not only in the Christian world, but also in the Islamic world, and in the Middle East in particular.
Pope Francis made another important statement on the plane as he returned to Italy. The Pope said, “The Armenian-Turkish border is in my heart. I wish that the border is opened; it would be wonderful. I am aware that there are geopolitical problems that make the opening of the border difficult, but we must pray for reconciliation between these nations.” The Pope’s statement led to increased rumours that a commemorative mass in memory of the victims of 1915 would be held at the Vatican in 2015. However, Vatican sources retain their silence regarding 2015 for now.
Following the joint meeting the Pope attended after mass held for the Feast of Saint Andrew the Apostle at the Ecumenical Patriarchate, a joint declaration was published. The declaration that begins “We, Pope Francis and Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I...” continued with the words, “...We express our sincere and firm resolution, in obedience to the will of our Lord Jesus Christ, to intensify our efforts to promote the full unity of all Christians, and above all between Catholics and Orthodox” signalling to the real purpose of the Pope’s visit.
Although the mainstream press did not report on it widely, the fact that the Pope spent the final minutes of his visit to Turkey at the Surp Pırgiç Hospital by the side of Mesrob II, Patriarch of the Armenians of Turkey, who is in poor health, was of great significance. This was also a powerful step towards the “unity of all Christians” mentioned in the joint declaration.