Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Pope Benedict XVI in Turkey: day 2

In a rather ironic coincidence, thanks to Greek technology, I missed this morning's Mass at Ephesus at the house of St Paul's and Mary's (for which there is regretfully no archaeological evidence by the way). The congregation seems to have been the smallest in recent memory: about 300 devotees, mostly Germans. It seems Benedict has mastered a few words of Turkish. John Allen is reporting that the diminutive Christian community is somewhat emboldened by Benedict's visit, comparing it with a "coming out event". All very well, but I hope this will not encourage them to overstep the Turkish mark somehow. But they're used to a balancing act, so let's pray for the best possible outcome.

It transpired today that the Pope yesterday in his speech at the Religious Affairs Directorate (Diyanet) did a good job at eloquential tight-rope walking. Going there himself instead of being at the receiving end of the meeting, is in itself considered a mark of high respect shown by the Pope. In our television screen we saw the Pope in his white robes behind a roster delivering his speech, while a sort of Great Khan in a golden fez, apparently Mr Ali Bardakoglu, the person who issued the imperial demand last week to the effect that Islam henceforth is to be called a Religion of Peace (see post with same title), was sitting in a corner, tightly on a heap of cushions (or was that a figment of my imagination?), apparently waiting to jump up brandishing his blazing scimitar at first evidence of a papal mistake; which never came, thanks be to the Almighty, the Merciful.

In his speech to the diplomatic corps Benedict stressed the need for reciprocity (which he can probably do to no avail till kingdom come, as concept utterly alien to Islam) and urged religious leaders of all faiths to refuse to support any form of violence in the name of faith (let's hope we can still keep the peace after this).

In his speeches Pope Benedict also had one or two things to say about the separation of Church and State and how the two institutions should work in tandem. In Islamic countries we see the scales going in the way of more or less totalitarian state religion, while in the West we're running the risk of going the opposite way - namely banning everything religious to the private sphere, which is also a grave mistake for various reasons.

On another note in relation to the mending of the schism-ed fences between the Orthodox and the Catholic hemispheres, broken since 1054, to which can be added the small matter of the filioque, the following. The official date of the schism is 1054, but C.M. Woodhouse in his short but comprehensive book titled Modern Greece, a Short History writes: "...The ecclesiastical wrangle ... was in part the first harbinger of the struggle between the Eastern and the Western Churches ... a small minority of Western bishops attended the Council of Nicaea (325 A.D.) ... they resented the intrusion of Constantinople into a leading role ... it was an upstart see, not to be compared with Rome ...". Envy is of all ages and creeds!
I'm really looking forward to the meeting of the two leaders tonight at the Phanari!

Which reminds me of a typical instance of Christian bashing in relation to the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. Apparently, so the story goes, the Eastern and Western Churches have been squabbling for eons over the authority over the church, so in a mediation effort the key is now kept by a local Muslim family who hold custody. So the Christian clergy now have to go and request the key from them ... which is hilarious and a good joke, those stupid black-robes: Down With Us!!! On this note - and I don't have the illusion for one moment that it will help one iota, but still, for the sake of fighting relativism, Your Holinesses, please mend the folioquial fences and join the other battle instead!

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