ROME — Pope Francis Sunday called on Muslim leaders to be more forceful about condemning violence committed in the name of their faith, asking them to declare that “this is not Islam.”
The pontiff said he raised the point in a private meeting with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan two days ago.
“I told the president it would be beautiful if all Islamic leaders, [including] politicians, religious leaders, and academics, clearly spoke out” in this sense, he said.
Francis made the comments during a 45-minute press conference on his return flight to Rome after a three-day stop in Turkey.
Among other things, Francis met Erdogan and other Turkish leaders during the trip, as well as sharing two liturgies with Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople and issuing a joint declaration with the Orthodox leader.
Shortly before leaving on Sunday, the pope also met a group of about 100 young refugees in Turkey, mostly Iraqi and Syrian, to say he “shares their sufferings.”
In other topics raised in the news conference, Pope Francis:
- Argued that the “substance” of a controversial interim report from a recent Synod of Bishops, calling for a greater opening to gays, remained intact in the meeting’s final document despite some “amendments”. Many critics saw the final report as a significant retreat from the earlier position.
- Confirmed that he did pray in Istanbul’s Blue Mosque on Saturday, despite Vatican attempts to describe his gesture with a Muslim cleric as a “moment of silent adoration.” The pope said he prayed for Turkey, for peace, for the mufti, and for himself, adding, “I need it.”
- Said he would go to Moscow immediately if the Russian Orthodox leader invited him, and stressed his willingness to find a form of exercising papal power more acceptable to the Orthodox.
- Acknowledged that some conservatives on both the Catholic and Orthodox sides have doubts about gestures of ecumenical openness, saying “we have to be respectful” of conservatives and “never tire of talking to them, without insulting them” and “don’t expel them.”
- Said he wanted to visit a refugee camp during his three-day trip to Turkey, and still would like to go to Iraq, but both have been ruled out in part for security reasons.
In the wake of his third visit to a majority Muslim nation, Francis said it’s time for a “global condemnation” of terrorism by a cross-section of Islamic leaders.
The pontiff said he believes “the majority of the Muslim population becomes angry” about terrorist acts committed in the name of Islam, he said, “and hearing it from the mouths of their leaders would help.”
Describing the Qu’ran as a “prophetic book of peace,” Francis said “I firmly believe that one can’t say all Muslims are terrorists, just as all Christians aren’t fundamentalists, even though we have some.”
Yet the pontiff also said he didn’t want to “use sweet words” to play down the threat Christians in parts of the Middle East face from Islamic radicals.
“They’re kicking Christians out of the Middle East,” he said, citing the example of Christians in the area around Mosul in Iraq who were forced by the Islamic State “to either pay a tax or leave everything behind.”
As he has on other occasions, Francis offered a strong indictment of the arms trade during his news conference, calling it “terrible.” He also suggested that unnamed actors who blamed Syria last year for the use of chemical weapons “may have been the same people who sold them.”
Likewise, Francis rued the continuing existence of nuclear weapons.
“God has given us creation so that we create culture and carry it forward,” he said. Instead, he said, nuclear energy has been abused “to destroy creation and humanity.”
On the Oct. 5-19 Synod of Bishops on the family, Francis insisted that such a synod “is not a parliament,” but rather “a prophetic space where the Holy Spirit can speak.”
He was responding to a question about a controversial midway report from the recent synod which contained daring language on gays and same-sex relationships, saying they could offer “precious support” to partners. Much of that language was either removed or softened in the final report.
Francis outlined the synod process, calling the interim report merely a “working document,” and said “the substance remains” of that draft in the final document.
He also pointed out that the recent synod was preparatory for another summit next year, and said it’s a mistake “to take a person’s opinion, or a draft” as its final result.
“You have to see the synod process in its totality,” he said.
Francis volunteered that he’s in favor of releasing the content of what’s said inside the meeting hall by synod participants during each day’s session, but not who said it, describing that as his “personal opinion.”
Vatican attempts to deliver such generalized overviews of each day’s work last October came in for criticism, primarily from conservatives who felt their voices were not bring adequately represented.
Having spent much of the last two days in the company of Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople, Francis signaled his eagerness to press his campaign for closer ties with Orthodoxy to the Russian Orthodox Church.
Saying he recently met with a senior official of the Moscow Patriarchate, Francis said he told him, “I’ll go [to Moscow] whenever you want … you call me and I’ll come.”
Acknowledging that concerns over being forced to submit to papal authority remain a stumbling block for many Orthodox believers about unity with Rome, Francis said he wants to find a form of exercising that authority closer to the first millennium in Christian history, before the historic split between East and West.
More generally, the pontiff said many divisions occur when the Church “looks too much at itself,” meaning that it becomes excessively “self-referential.”
Citing a traditional saying comparing the Church to the moon, Francis said “the Church does not have its own light, but must look to Jesus Christ.”
When the Church becomes obsessed with its own affairs rather than looking to Christ, he said, it becomes “a theological NGO.”