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ANKARA, Turkey — Pope Francis condemned ISIS's assault on Christians and other religious minorities in Iraq and Syria, as he arrived Friday in Turkey to encourage Muslim leaders to take a stronger stand against extremists who twist religion to justify terrorism.
Francis sought to offer a balanced message as he met with Turkish officials upon his arrival in Ankara, his second trip to the Middle East this year. He reaffirmed that military force was justified to halt the extremists' advance, but called for greater dialogue between Christians, Muslims and people of all faiths to end fundamentalism.
"Fanaticism and fundamentalism, as well as irrational fears which foster misunderstanding and discrimination, need to be countered by the solidarity of all believers," Francis told Turkish officials at President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's massive new presidential palace.
In his remarks to Francis, Erdogan complained about rising Islamophobia in the West and said prejudices against Muslims were helping fuel radical Islamic groups in the Middle East and Africa.
"Those who feel defeated, wronged, oppressed and abandoned ... can become open to being exploited by terror organizations," Erdogan said.
He said he hoped Francis' visit would strengthen ties between Christians and Muslims, but the pope's visit was met largely with indifference in the Muslim nation.
The pope was greeted at Ankara's Esenboga Airport by a line of Turkish dignitaries, headed by Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, as he descended the steps of his plane. He inspected and greeted Turkish honor guards before heading to the mausoleum of the Turkish republic's founder, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, where he laid a wreath.
Beyond the geopolitical issues, the three-day visit will give Francis a chance to reach out to Turkey's tiny Christian community — less than 1 percent of Turks are Catholic — and visit with the spiritual leader of the world's Orthodox Christians, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I.
Francis will tour two of Istanbul's most impressive sites, the Haghia Sofia — the Byzantine church-turned-mosque that is now a museum — and the nearby Sultan Ahmet mosque, Turkey's most important place of Muslim worship. The Vatican's plans call for him to pause in the mosque for a moment of "reflection."