Pope Francis and the spiritual leader of the world's Orthodox Christians demanded an end to the persecution of religious minorities in Syria and Iraq today and called for dialogue with Muslims, capping Francis' three-day visit to Turkey with a strong show of Christian unity. Francis and Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I issued a joint declaration urging leaders in the region to intensify help to victims of the Islamic State group, and especially to allow Christians who have had a presence in the region for 2,000 years to remain on their native lands. "The terrible situation of Christians and all those who are suffering in the Middle East calls not only for our constant prayer but also for an appropriate response on the part of the international community," they wrote.
The statement was issued at the end of Francis' first trip to Turkey during which he prayed in one of Istanbul's most important mosques alongside the Grand Mufti of Istanbul, Rahmi Yaran. He was also set to meet with a few of the 1.6 million refugees who have crossed into Turkey to flee the ISIS assault in Syria and Iraq. Francis and Bartholomew, the spiritual leader of the world's 300 million Orthodox Christians, called for "constructive dialogue" with Islam "based on mutual respect and friendship." "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," they said. (Read more Pope Francis stories.)