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RU 46+47/2007 - TURKEY, special report

SPECIAL EDITION: TURKEY: One thing is to trust stupidly the media, another thing is to go to see by oneself on the spot. That’s what a group of the association UNEC, Paris, did from November 12th to 24th. The goal was to pilgrim thru Turkey, a formerly totally Christian area, long time before the baptism of France, and to meet the Christians who are living there with great difficulty under even moderate Islam, to try “to feel” this country the belonging of which to Europe is so much controversial.

The reception was more than cordial everywhere, a rare thing today. Would this be the “natural” remainders of the Gospel formerly widely spread over this country before Islam destroyed its Christendom? Everywhere one proposed to us to enter to take – without cost - a delicious cup of tchae (tea), even in front of gas stations and street restaurants, or of 5 star hotels. And in spite of the difficulties of language, they tried to converse and to smile with us. Often we opened our road maps to ask whether such or such road was “sure” in our circuit of 3000 km by car. A soldier in civilian clothes summarized: “In Turkey, there are nowhere problems, there are some terrorists, that’s all”. We concluded: OK, it’s like in France, so let’s go! In fact, in the only region of Val-d'Oise close to Paris, there were in November more terrorism assaults, killed and wounded people (without speaking about the baby assassinations by abortion) than on the entire border zone of Turkey with Iraq. The country is full of wonders: the mysterious valleys of Cappadokia, the immensity of the Black Sea, the countless mountain peaks often exceeding 3000, 4000, and even 5000 meters (Ararat Mountain), the hidden beauties of the hundreds of empty churches which were formerly the splendor of Christendom during the Byzantine reign and which are decaying and filled up with rubble since five centuries and a half, without life: Holy Sophia at Trabzond, the cathedral of Ani near the Armenian border, the church of the Holy Cross on the lake Van near the Iranian border, the many churches of Tur Abdin very close to Syria…

At Trabzond, on the Black Sea, we could visit the catholic parish Saint Mary, one of the two only churches surviving in the eastern part of Turkey. The priest, from Poland, had just been hospitalized for a serious sinusitis which probably will require a cerebral operation. He had come for help when the former priest, an Italian missionary, had been assassinated on the steps of the church in February 2006. His assassin, a 17 year old Moslem, is currently in prison, and a mass of “reconciliation” was celebrated one year later in the church Saint Mary, with the assistance of a cardinal from Rome, but also of several family members of the assassin. The Turkish media largely commented this event. Nicolas, a young Rumanian, manages the parish on the material level, as does his wife some 350 km away, at Samsun, also a Rumanian. He tells us: “Our priest prayed yesterday evening to God why He leaves him suspended between life and death. He asked Him to let him die in order to be able to join Him, or otherwise to let him fully live in order to do his apostolate.” This Sunday, on November 18th, there was no holy mass at Trabzond. Nicolas informed us that a Turkish Imam recently converted to Catholicism, and that things are on the move. But he also admitted that, from time to time, as it’s the case for the priest himself, someone in the street slaps him in the face, just when passing by. It’s the fruit of the teaching which the young people receive in the Koranic schools and from their parents. The church Saint Mary opens the door to all those who ring the bell for getting information, an abundant Christian literature in Turkish language is waiting for them. Sometimes the visitors are very astonished, while entering the church, to see normal, pleasant, open people, as if they rather expected to meet there terrorists who are armed to the teeth. As to this issue, the visit of the pope in Turkey made marvels, said Nicolas. Conversions are happening, but seldom, and always spontaneously, “without proselytism”. The religiosity of oriental people, once acquired to the true faith, is very deep, rather non cerebral. The Gospel (“Incil”) speaks directly to their heart, it’s in their own oriental language. And often it’s God himself, say the catechumens, who called them “in their dreams”. Is this possible that God, in his Mercy, would exert a kind of emergency evangelization near those people so distant from His Church? One hears the same facts from Egypt, from Jordan… Mystery! - Ani, the ancient capital of Armenia (Christian state since the year 310), was an overwhelming visit for us: on a vast desert ground there was not living one single man, but many splendid churches in the ancient armenian-georgian style, the tentacular ruins of which continue to tower towards heaven, at onlya few kilometres from Armenia: the church of the Blessed Virgins, of Saint Gregorius, of the Mother of God, the huge cathedral… No Christian is any more living here. That Christendom disappeared, initially swept by the storm of Islam, then ruined by earthquakes! It would be due to celebrate a holy mass of repentance and resurrection in the middle of this desert! A little bit like the dove which came back to announce to Noah, in his arch on the Ararat mount not far from there, that the grace returns. - This tour has been undertaken by UNEC in order to prepare its great pilgrimage to Christian Turkey in 2008. Because of the “Kurdish” risks close to the borders with Iraq, the portion of the circuit which had been initially planned in the area of the south-east - yet extremely important for the Christians because there are still in life, in an uninterrupted way since 17 centuries, several Christian monasteries and parishes - will be replaced by a visit to Georgia, with its hundreds of churches and monasteries in activity.

Please find hereafter the program for this “Pilgrimage from Constantinople to Tbilissi” planned by UNEC for the autumn 2008: Flight Paris-Istanbul (Constantinople); Christian day: visit of Hagia Sophia, of the French Christian district Saint-Lewis, of the Orthodox patriarchate Phanar; then Byzantine day: the old palace of the Roman Emperors of the East, Galata (where the Holy Tunic was kept), the Topkapi castle of the Sultans… Then Istanbul-Trabezond by plane: a day with the local Catholic parish with mass of repentance, and conference, visit of the ancient cathedral Aya Sofia (today museum) on the Black Sea, of the splendid Sumela monastery built since the 4th century on the rocks. Then in coach and minibus a course of 1500 km: Reza on the Black Sea with its plantations of tea, the splendid canyons and peaks close to Georgia, pilgrimage to the small mountain church of Dolishane (out of service) while walking totally 7 km, visit of the “mass grave of churches” at Ani close to Kars, descent towards the lake Van, the island of Akdhamar with the church of the Holy Cross, then driving up towards mount Ararat, and passage to Georgia where we will remain 2 days at Zougdidi in the west of the country: visits of the Green House (S.O.S MOTHERS) financed by UNEC, of the castle of the French Murat family (today museum containing the Dress of the Virgin Mary which we shall be able to venerate), then thru to Tbilissi while passing by old Georgian monasteries which are still in activity (Kobe, Guelati…), and finally pilgrimage to the Holy Tunic of Christ preserved at Mzcheta, the ancient capital near Tbilissi, in a splendid cathedral of the first millenium. Return flight Tbilissi-Paris. In short, it’s a pilgrimage of the “hard” category. Its goal is to support our Eastern Christian brothers and sisters, but also to learn from them how to survive and sanctify ourselves in spite of persecutions and deficiencies. We will naturally bring gifts according to the desires of the Christians. Price by pilgrim: 1500 Euro, with the 3 flights, visits and transportation, but in half pension and double room. Holy Masses in the “St Pius V” rite every day. Date: from Sept. 14th to 28th, 2008. The number of pilgrims being limited to 20, it’s necessary to contact quickly UNEC for details and eventually final inscription, with the 1st payment rate in January 2008. - (ru)


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