Friday, December 01, 2006

Pope Benedict XVI in Turkey: days 3 and 4

Greek public broadcaster ERT, having not reached that level of P.C.-ness as some others in Europe, under the title "A Historic Meeting" and "Visit of Love and Peace" yesterday sang the praises of the papal visit for the opportunity it offers to expose the lamentable situation of Patriarch Bartholomew and his flock to the international press.
The commentators were especially curious about Benedict's message in the guest book, because, as they said "such texts always have a deeper meaning". Alas, we never learnt!
The joint declaration, signed yesterday morning in Hall of the Throne in the Phanari was considered "very important". So there you are!

About the Agia Sophia as a building, I can say only this: it's spooky and it's big! In fact it, and everything in it, is huge, over-sized and made for giants. It doesn't contain much anymore but some menacing Turkish shields with Arabic calligraphy and some other indescribable relics, but what there is outsizes the next in dimension. It may be hypersensitivity on my part, but it gave me the creeps. Till today I've not been able to find the words for what I felt there. It's a culture-clash of gigantic proportions, a sacrilege against a brother religion and a crime against good taste. At some point in time even the Turks seemed to agree and built their own temple in the vicinity, the Blue Mosque, about which I can also be short: it was unmemorable apart from the fact that I can vaguely remember taking off my shoes.

Pope Benedict last night prayed at the Blue Mosque "like a Muslim, towards the east", about which the Turkish press and Al-Jazeera were very excited. What's more he didn't pray at the Agia Sophia, which was even more cause for praise as that would have constituted an embarrassment for the government.
The Dutch press are also their usual diminutive self, describing the Church of the Holy Wisdom as the "Sinte-Sofie", as if it were the local village pastorial.

Last night the Pope also joined with the Armenian Apostolic Patriarch Mesrob II in a prayer service at the Armenian cathedral. He brought up the sensitive topic of the Armenian genocide, albeit not explicitly. EWTN today apologised for not having any video material made available, which indeed makes you wonder. Is the world not to be made aware of the Armenian presence, or does their low profile not permit any media exposure?

Later in the evening Pope Benedict met with the grand rabbi and concluded the third day of his visit at a dinner with the Catholic bishops of Turkey.

Yesterday the demonstrations against the Pope were also back. As a measure of democracy and civil rights in Turkey it is a positive thing. In terms of toleration of other faiths and a measure of maturity or ability to absorb criticism, it's not. And then there are the demonstrations by the organization calling itself The Grey Wolves, who have persuaded themselves that Bartholomew wants to establish in Istanbul a Vatican-style state, reminiscent of the Byzantine Empire. Looks to me something of the Mother of all Conspiracy Theories, but what do I know! I mean, membership of an organization by that name must be only one jot worse than holding a membership card of the Club of the Black Hand. Brrrrr ....

A measure of how far off we are from the required E.U. levels is illustrated by the following, reported by The Independent Online: the Turkish government warned the Pope against describing the Orthodox Patriarchate as "ecumenical", saying the use of that ancient title (meaning universal in Greek) has political overtones that could undermine Turkish sovereignty.

As I am writing this, the Holy Father is on his way back to Rome. On his departure he looked a great deal less tense than when he arrived. I guess that in many respects the papal visit can be called a success. In terms of improved relations with the Christian brothers and Islam and in terms of delivering a few messages in passing, such as the need to unite and renew awareness in Europe of its Christian roots.
This morning's Mass at Istanbul's Catholic Cathedral of the Holy Spirit - due to its Eastern elements - stood out and was more and not a little moving!

It's about time too we wrapped this up, as there are a zillion topics waiting for posting, such as the impending civil wars in Iraq, Palestine and Lebanon. The latter is engulfed today by Hizbolla mass demos with a view of toppling the government of Fuad Siniora, all with a little help from the friends in Syria and Iran and turn-coats like Michel Aoun.

I'm not there yet but an in depth delivery on the book Without Roots, a joint product of Pope Benedict and Marcello Pera with the tags The West, Relativism, Christianity, Islam, is underway. It describes my complaints about Europe word for word and we may have the beginnings here of a movement away from the present predicament. Hopefully!

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