(JNS.org) In his first visit to the Middle East since Israel last spring, Pope Francis called on Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to engage in interfaith dialogue in order to protect Middle East Christians and other persecuted minority groups.

Pope Francis. Credit: Wikimedia Commons. 

Pope Francis. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

“It is essential that all citizens — Muslim, Jewish and Christian — both in the provision and practice of the law, enjoy the same rights and respect the same duties,” Francis told Erdogan, Vatican Radio reported.

“Mr. President, interreligious and intercultural dialogue can make an important contribution to attaining this lofty and urgent goal, so that there will be an end to all forms of fundamentalism and terrorism which gravely demean the dignity of every man and woman and exploit religion,” Francis said.

Under the leadership of Erdogan and his AKP party, the role of Islam in Turkey has increased. This has been met with some backlash from minority and secular groups in Turkey, who have accused Erdogan of authoritarianism.

At the same time, Turkey has also played a reluctant role in the U.S.-led campaign to defeat the Islamic State, refusing to directly attack the jihadist terror group and preferring to work on toppling Syrian President Bashar al-Assad instead. The Islamic State has been accused of engaging in genocide against Christians, Yazidis, and other minorities in Syria and Iraq.

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