Pope’s conciliation furthers Orthodox, Muslim dialogues
Talking Turkey – Pope’s conciliation furthers Orthodox, Muslim dialogues
By Russell Shaw
Our Sunday Visitor (www.osv.com)
HUNTINGTON, Ind. (Our Sunday Visitor) – Reconciliation, as Pope Benedict XVI certainly knows, requires not only the occasional dramatic gesture but a slow, steady process of growing together. During his apostolic trip to Turkey, the pope made dramatic gestures to promote reconciliation on several broad fronts, but the trip's lasting impact can only be gauged by future events.
The pope's Nov. 30-Dec. 1 journey to Turkey was two trips rolled into one.
In one trip, Pope Benedict reached out to angry Muslims and alienated Turks in hopes of healing hard feelings over remarks he'd made that they took as insults. In the larger scheme of things, it was an attempt to deflect the "clash of civilizations" between Islam and the West sometimes predicted by doomsayers.
In the other trip – to see the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, Bartholomew I – Pope Benedict sought to foster the movement toward Catholic-Orthodox reunion stalled in recent years by mutual suspicions and resentments. His encounter with the Armenian Patriarch of Istanbul, Mesrob II, had a similar ecumenical purpose. More than anything else, advancing the quest for unity between the churches of the East and the West was what brought the pope to Turkey.
Catholics and Orthodox have been divided for almost a millennium, but relations have vastly improved in recent decades. In 1965, Pope Paul VI and the Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras II lifted mutual excommunications, and Pope Paul and Pope John Paul II both made well-received visits to Istanbul. More recently, though, the Catholic-Orthodox theological dialogue was chilled amid a variety of grievances, including Orthodox complaints about alleged Catholic proselytizing in Eastern Europe and Catholic resentments about property seized during the communist years. Only this fall did the dialogue resume.
Although the ecumenical patriarch directly presides over only a few thousand Orthodox faithful, his office has a symbolic primacy of honor among the patriarchs of the worldwide Orthodox communion, which numbers 300 million.
In this context, a joint declaration by Pope Benedict and Patriarch Bartholomew signaled a notable advance. Affirming the "urgent need" for unity, they sketched a program of cooperation on issues like the rise of secularism and relativism in the West, human rights, Middle-East peace and the environment.
But there's a long way to go. Traditional suspicions of Rome within the powerful Russian Orthodox and Greek Orthodox churches have not been overcome, and theological issues like the role of the papacy in a united church remain unresolved.
Pope Benedict's outreach to the Muslim world produced similarly real but limited immediate results.
Heavy security and generally sparse crowds marked the visit to Turkey, an officially secular state where 99.8 percent of the 72 million people are Muslims and only about 30,000 are Catholics. In the weeks beforehand, Pope Benedict was bitterly criticized in the Turkish media for opposition he voiced in 2004 to Turkish membership in the European Union and for a talk last September in which he quoted a 14th-century Byzantine Christian emperor's harsh words about Mohammed and Islam.
During his visit, the pope went out of his way to express esteem for Muslims and their faith while calling for Christian-Muslim dialogue and understanding.
Pope Benedict told Muslim leaders in Istanbul that shared belief in "the sacred character and dignity of the person" is the basis of respect between Christians and Muslims and cooperation in the cause of peace.
Seeking to discourage the idea that an apocalyptic conflict between Islam and the West lies ahead, he said: "As men and women of religion, we are challenged by the widespread longing for justice, development, solidarity, freedom, security, peace, defense of life, protection of the environment and of the resources of the earth."
But Pope Benedict gently made it clear that good relations require reciprocity. For "all believers," he said, freedom of religion is "the necessary condition for their loyal contribution to the building up of society."
And, preaching at a Mass beside the tiny house outside Ephesus where tradition says the blessed virgin lived after Christ's death, he spoke of the "fine witness" of Father Andrea Santoro. The Italian priest, pastor of a Catholic parish on the Black Sea, was shot to death last February by a Turkish teenager apparently angered by cartoons in European publications lampooning Mohammed. Since then his successor has been stabbed and two other religious have been attacked.
On the plane to Turkey, Pope Benedict shared the rationale for his journey with reporters: "The objective … is dialogue, fraternity, a commitment in favor of understanding between cultures and religions, in favor of reconciliation." To the extent possible in four days, the trip marked a step forward in all of these areas.
Servant of God Father Patrick Peyton, pray for us.