Pope Francis has just concluded a three-day pastoral visit to Turkey which took him to the cities of Ankara and Istanbul. It was a journey that had a strong emphasis on ecumenical relations and interfaith dialogue and saw the Pope and the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I sign a joint declaration pledging to intensify their search for Christian unity and calling for a constructive dialogue with Islam. Our correspondent travelling with the Pope to Turkey was Philippa Hitchen and in an interview with Linda Bordoni, she revisited some of the highlights of this papal trip.
Pope Francis’ final engagement before he left Istanbul on Sunday was a meeting with a group of young people including many refugees from conflict zones of the Middle East and Africa. Philippa described the event as a “very poignant” visit and “personal encounter” between the refugees and the Pope that also helps to remind the international community of the huge number of refugees who have flocked to Turkey from neighbouring countries, especially Syria.
Turning to the Pope’s many other engagements during this “very busy” visit, Philippa said there were many moving and significant moments. One particularly striking moment for her was the Pope’s gesture of bowing his head and asking for the blessing of the Orthodox Patriarch during a Divine Liturgy at the Patriarchal Church of St. George in Istanbul and she said this spoke volumes about the friendship between the two leaders and the ecumenical dialogue between their Churches.
“How could you not be moved by the moment that Pope Francis bowed his head and asked the Orthodox Patriarch to bless him and the patriarch planted a kiss on his head….. a real symbol of the friendship between these two people and also a real symbol of the direction that their Churches are taking..…a slow but steady progress towards reconciliation and Christian unity between East and West.”