Pope Francis called for an end to fundamentalism and terrorism through a greater interfaith dialogue based on all believers having the same rights.
During a joint news conference with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Ankara on Friday, Pope Francis said the Middle East has for too long been a theater of fratricidal wars. He stressed the importance of dialogue in working toward building a peace based on fundamental rights.
Speaking after a meeting with Erdogan, the pontiff condemned the Islamic State (ISIL or ISIS) assault on Christians and other religious minorities in Iraq and Syria.
Erdogan, while condemning groups like Islamic State, accused the West of holding a double standard over its failure to confront Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Erdogan warned of what he described as growing "Islamophobia," saying the oppression of Muslims was leaving them open to exploitation by terrorist groups.
The leader of 1.2 billion Roman Catholics thanked Turkey for sheltering more than 1.6 million refugees, who have crossed the border to escape fighting and brutality in the areas along Turkey’s southern borders where the insurgents have declared an Islamic caliphate.
He said the international community had a "moral obligation'' to help Ankara provide for them.
The pope also met with Mehmet Gormez, the top Muslim cleric of the constitutionally secular but predominately Muslim nation. "Violence seeking religious justification deserves the strongest condemnation," the pope said after the meeting.
Before meeting the Turkish president, Francis visited Mustafa Kemal Ataturk’s mausoleum, where he prayed and laid a wreath at the symbolic grave of the founder of the Republic of Turkey and wrote a dedication in the Golden Book kept inside the mausoleum
"I make my most sincere vows for Turkey, a natural bridge between two continents, to be not only a crossroad of paths but also a place of meeting and dialogue and serene coexistence among men and women of good will of every culture, ethnicity and religion," his note read, as reported by The Associated Press.
The pope met with Erdogan at his newly constructed and hugely controversial presidential palace outside Ankara, becoming the first foreign dignitary to be received at the grandiose complex.
There had been calls for the pope, known for his frugality, not to meet Erdogan at the palace, seen by critics as an authoritarian extravagance. It has 1,000 rooms and cost $615 million (500 million euros) to build.
The pope, who was welcomed at Ankara's airport by Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, visits Turkey amid new Muslim-Christian tensions and Islamic State militants' seizure of areas of Iraq and Syria, pushing refugees across the border into Turkey.
Vatican officials said Francis would not shy from denouncing violence in God's name or voicing concern for Christians targeted by extremists.
The Vatican said Francis would meet no refugee groups as he has done on previous trips to the region.
The 77-year-old Argentine pope will move to Istanbul on Saturday and Sunday, where he is expected to visit such key sites as Hagia Sophia, a church that was turned into a mosque and is now a museum. His schedule also includes a meeting with Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I and a visit to the city's Sultan Ahmet mosque, also known as the Blue Mosque.
Francis is the fourth pontiff to visit Turkey. The others were Paul VI, John Paul II and Benedict XVI.
Some material for this report came from Reuters, AFP and AP. Dorian Jones contributed from Istanbul.