Pope Francis has urged Muslim leaders to “clearly” condemn violent attacks carried out in the name of Islam after returning from a historic three-day visit to Turkey.
The Catholic pope made the remarks on Sunday during a press briefing on board a plane carrying him back to Rome after wrapping up a three-day visit to Turkey.
I told the president that it would be beautiful if all Islamic leaders, whether they are political, religious or academic leaders, would speak out clearly and condemn this because this would help the majority of Muslim people.
Francis said he had made the suggestion of a global condemnation of terrorism by Muslim leaders in talks on Friday with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Francis several times condemned the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) group during his three-day trip.
“I told the president that it would be beautiful if all Islamic leaders, whether they are political, religious or academic leaders, would speak out clearly and condemn this because this would help the majority of Muslim people,” he said.
Francis also said on Sunday that equating Islam with violence was wrong and that he understood why Muslims were offended by many in the West who automatically equated their religion with terrorism.
The Argentine pope, who has been trying to foster cooperation with moderate Islam in order to work for peace and protect Christians in the Middle East, said it was wrong for anyone to react to terrorism by being “enraged” against Islam.
“You just can’t say that, just as you can’t say that all Christians are fundamentalists. We have our share of them [fundamentalists]. All religions have these little groups,” he said.
“They [Muslims] say: ‘No, we are not this, the Quran is a book of peace, it is a prophetic book of peace.'”
On the final day of his first visit to Turkey, the leader of the world’s 1.2 billion Roman Catholics also called for an end to violence against Christians by ISIL.
In a joint statement with Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I, the leaders said they could not allow Christianity to be driven out of the region.
“We cannot resign ourselves to a Middle East without Christians, who have professed the name of Jesus there for two thousand years.”
They said the “terrible situation” of Christians calls “for an appropriate response on the part of the international community”.
The pope’s trip was less controversial than his predecessor’s in 2006, which was overshadowed by remarks Benedict XVI had made which were deemed to be anti-Islam.
Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi described the atmosphere this time around as more “cordial and serene”.