The Pope has condemned the Islamic State assault on Christians and other religious minorities in Iraq and Syria as he arrived in Turkey to encourage Muslim leaders to take a stronger stand against extremists.
Francis sought to offer a balanced message as he reaffirmed that military force was justified to halt the extremists’ advance, but called for greater dialogue between Christians and Muslims to end fundamentalism.
He said: “Fanaticism and fundamentalism, as well as irrational fears which foster misunderstanding and discrimination, need to be countered by the solidarity of all believers.”
He also thanked Turkey for hosting 1.6 million refugees, praising its humanitarian response to “so many refugees from conflict zones”. Francis has arrived in Turkey at a sensitive moment as it cares waves of refugees and weighs how to deal with Islamic State fighters across its southern border.
After landing at Ankara’s Esenboga Airport the Pope headed to the mausoleum of the Turkish republic’s founder, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, where he laid a wreath.
The three-day visit will give Francis a chance to reach out to Turkey’s tiny Christian community – less than one per cent of Turks are Catholic – and meet the spiritual leader of the world’s Orthodox Christians, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I.
Security will be tight: Turkish media said 2,700 police would be on duty during the Ankara leg of the trip, and a court has issued an order allowing officers to stop and search cars.