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Heavy security in Rome as president of Turkey visits pope

VATICAN CITY (CNS): Turkey’s president Recep Tayyip Erdogan, was welcomed to the Vatican by Pope Francis for a private meeting on February 5. It was the first visit by a Turkish head of state in 59 years.
Erdogan had arrived in Rome amid heavy security measures for a two-day visit that was to include meetings with Italian authorities and business leaders. More than 3,000 police officers had been deployed for the visit, according to Agence France-Presse, and demonstrations had been banned in Rome’s centre for 24 hours.
The 50-minute meeting with the pope focused on “the situation in the Middle East, with particular reference to the status of Jerusalem, highlighting the need to promote peace and stability in the region through dialogue and negotiation, with respect for human rights and international law,” a statement from the Holy See Press Office said.
In addition, Pope Francis and Erdogan discussed “the condition of the Catholic community, efforts in the reception of the many refugees and the challenges linked to this,” the statement said.
The same topics were brought up during Erdogan’s separate meeting with Pietro Cardinal Parolin, Vatican secretary of state, and Archbishop Paul Gallagher, Vatican foreign minister.
In their exchange of gifts, Erdogan gave the pope a boxed collection of works by Jalal al-Din Muhammad Rumi, the 13th-century Muslim mystic, philosopher and poet, as well as a large panoramic image of the city of Istanbul hand-painted on ceramic tiles.
The pope gave Erdogan a large bronze medallion of an angel of peace, who, the pope said, “strangles the demon of war.”
“This is a symbol of a world founded on peace and justice,” the pope continued.
The pope also gave the president a copy of his encyclical, Laudato Si’ (On Care for Our Common Home), his 2018 message for the World Day of Peace and an engraving of what St. Peter’s Basilica and the square looked like in the 17th century.
Before departing Istanbul for Rome, Erdogan told reporters that his visit with the pope was “a significant opportunity to draw attention to common human values.”
He outlined plans to discuss the status of Jerusalem, the situation in Palestine, Syria and Iraq, as well as “counterterrorism, refugee issues and humanitarian aid,” according to the state-run Anadolu Agency. 
The rise of Islamophobia in the West and cultural racism were also topics he planned to bring up, the agency reported.
Erdogan had telephoned the Pope Francis in December to discuss his concerns after the president of the United States, Donald Trump, announced that he was formally recognising Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
Pope Francis has repeatedly upheld Vatican calls for a special, internationally guaranteed statute on the status of Jerusalem as the only way to preserve its unique identity as a place considered holy by Christians, Jews and Muslims.
The pope has publicly appealed for respect for the status quo of Jerusalem and prayed that “wisdom and prudence would prevail to avoid adding new elements of tension in a world already shaken and scarred by many cruel conflicts.” 

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