• Pope Francis chose to conclude his final day in Turkey by meeting a group of around a hundred refugees and asylum seekers. Christians and Muslims, they were mostly from Iraq and Syria, although some were from other countries in the Middle East and Africa, and have been assisted for some time by the Salesian community in Istanbul. The meeting took place in the Cathedral of the Holy Spirit.

    “I wish to assure you that I share your sufferings; I hope my visit, by the grace of God, may offer you some consolation in your difficult situation”, said the Pope. “Yours is the sad consequence of brutal conflicts and war, which are always evils and which never solve problems. Rather, they only create new ones”.

    He emphasised the difficulty of the living conditions of refugees, who often find themselves deprived, sometimes for long periods, of “basic needs such as a dignified home, healthcare, education and work. They have had to abandon not only their material possessions, but above all their freedom, closeness to family, their homeland and cultural traditions. The degrading conditions in which so many refugees are forced to live are intolerable! For this reason, we must do everything possible to eradicate the causes of this situation. I appeal for greater international cooperation to resolve the conflicts which are causing bloodshed in your homelands, to counter the other causes which are driving people to leave their home countries, and to improve conditions so that people may remain or return home. I encourage all who are working generously and steadfastly for justice and peace not to lose heart. I ask political leaders to always remember that the great majority of their people long for peace, even if at times they lack the strength and voice to demand it”.

    The Holy Father praised the work of many organisations in aid of refugees, including numerous Catholic groups “which offer generous aid to many in need without discriminating. I wish also to express deep gratitude to the Turkish authorities for the great efforts they have made in assisting the displaced, in particular Syrian and Iraqi refugees, and for the authorities’ tangible commitment in trying to meet their needs. I hope that the necessary support of the international community may not be lacking”.

    He offered some words of encouragement to the young people present. “It is easy to say this, but please make an effort not to be discouraged. With the help of God, continue to hope in a better future, despite the difficulties and obstacles which you are currently facing. The Catholic Church is with you, including through the invaluable work of the Salesians. The Church, in addition to other forms of help, also offers you the opportunity to see to your education and formation. Remember always that God does not forget any of his children, and that those who are the smallest and who suffer the most are closest to the Father’s heart”.

    “For my part, together with the whole Church, I will continue to pray to the Lord, asking him to inspire those in leadership, so that they will not hesitate to promote justice, security and peace and do so in ways that are clear and effective”, he concluded. “Through her social and charitable organisations, the Church will remain at your side and will continue to hold up your cause before the world. May God bless you all! Please pray for me. Thank you!”

    Following the meeting, the Pope proceeded to the hospital to visit the Armenian Orthodox Patriarch Mesrob II, who was admitted some years ago and remains in a coma. He subsequently went to Ataturk Airport where, after farewell greetings with the local civil and religious authorities, he departed for Rome. The aircraft carrying the Holy Father landed at 6.40 p.m. Before returning to the Vatican, he stopped in the Basilica of St. Mary Major to commend the fruits of his apostolic trip in Turkey to the Virgin.

    Source: Vatican Radio