ISTANBUL — Pope Francis said Islamic militants were carrying out a “profoundly grave sin against God” in Syria and Iraq, calling on Sunday for inter-religious dialogue and action against poverty to help end Middle East conflicts.
The pope spoke on the last day of his weekend trip to Turkey, which is sheltering nearly 2 million refugees from Syria, thousands of Christians among them.
At a joint service with Patriarch Bartholomew I, spiritual head of the world’s 300 million Eastern Orthodox Christians, Francis said people of all faiths could not remain indifferent to the cries of the victims of the “inhumane and brutal” war next door.
“Taking away the peace of a people, committing every act of violence — or consenting to such acts — especially when directed against the weakest and defenseless, is a profoundly grave sin against God,” he said during the service.
The pope also condemned Friday’s attack on Muslim worshippers at the main mosque in northern Nigeria’s biggest city, Kano, which killed at least 81 people.
He later met around 100 young refugees, mostly from Iraq and Syria, Christians and Muslims among them, and thanked Turkey for sheltering so many displaced civilians. A girl in the group spoke to him about the plight of Christians forced to flee Iraq.
Centuries of co-existence
It was the third time in as many days that the pope referred to Islamic State insurgents, who have killed or driven Shi’ite Muslims, Christians and others who do not share their ultra-radical brand of Sunni Islam out of swathes of Syria and Iraq.
The pope said stopping poverty was key partly because it gives rise to “the recruitment of terrorists.” He has said that while it is lawful for the international community to use force to stop an “unjust aggressor,” a lasting solution must be found.
In a separate joint statement issued during the service at the Ecumenical Patriarchate, the official seat of the Orthodox Christian patriarch, Francis and Bartholomew said:
“Muslims and Christians are called to work together for the sake of justice, peace and respect for the dignity and rights of every person, especially in those regions where they once lived for centuries in peaceful coexistence and now tragically suffer together the horrors of war.”
The leader of the world’s 1.2 billion Roman Catholics prayed in Istanbul’s most famous mosque on Saturday and has used the trip to reach out to Muslims to oppose the conflict in neighboring countries.
“Pope Francis wants to align the Catholic Church with moderate Muslims, in order to encourage them to resist what he has called fanaticism and fundamentalism,” said John Allen, author of numerous books about the Vatican and associate editor of the U.S. Catholic website Crux.
“In part, that’s a broad concern for dialog and world peace, in part a specific defense of embattled Christians,” he added.
Father Claudio Monge, who has served as an Italian Catholic priest in Turkey for 12 years and is also involved in shaping Christian-Muslim dialogue said: “The message is that those who use God as a pretext for violence cannot be a true believers. Those who have ears to hear will understand. He is appealing