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RU 37-39/2008 - TURKEY, Pilgrimage Report

TURKEY: RU interviewed a participant of a pilgrimage “to Turkey Christian earth” which was organized by UNEC from September 14th to 29th. - RU: You have just returned from Turkey. Knowing that this country is at 99% Moslem, is it not a contradiction to organize a “pilgrimage” to that country?

- WW: In fact, only the Turks are Moslem, and not the holy earth of Turkey. Everything speaks there about the passed Christianity, as this ground has been like BAPTIZED by the first hermits and monks of the Christian history, in particular in the Tur Abdin region in the south-east of the country; like CONFIRMED by the blood of the martyrs under Jewish, Roman and finally Moslem persecutions, when the Christians hided in great number in the caves and cellars of Cappadocia; like GLORIFIED by the admirable churches and monasteries - often decorated with extraordinary frescos – of the first Christian millenary, until the iron coat of Islam covered them up or destroyed them; like HONORED BY the PASSION of Christ up to the modern times which saw the genocide of the Christian Armenians in the east of the country, and today the persecution and even assassination of the last Christians who still are resisting to the Islamic tsunami on their own ground. Our pilgrimage thus wanted to be an act of memory, assistance and challenge.

- RU: challenge?

- WW: Yes. Since 2000 years the Christians have been at home in Turkey, and we made it known. Already before leaving, we informed the Turkish ambassador in Paris that we want to celebrate the holy mass in Hagia Sophia in Istanbul (6th century), in the imposing cathedral (10th century) which remained miraculously upright in the cemetery of churches of Ani close to Armenia, and in the admirable Byzantine cathedral Aya Sofia in Trabzond (13th century) on the Black Sea. In spite of the negative advice of the ambassador, we succeeded in praying and even celebrating the holy mass (in the ancient Gregorian rite) in several old churches and ruins of churches, generally transformed into mosques or museums. To our great joy, someones understood well our procedure, for instance this Imam in a remote village who pleasantly provided us the key to penetrate into a very old church in order to celebrate the mass there. Thus we could knit a saint chain of 14 masses over all of Turkey, from east to west, and from north to south (3700 km by coach), in order to sprinkle new graces over this old Christian earth which has become arid.

- RU: Could you meet Christians in Turkey?

- WW: Yes. In Constantinople (which the Turks renamed Istanbul) we could meet the priest of the catholic parish St Louis and a high representative of the Armenian patriarchate, in Ankara the apostolic nuncio of the Vatican, and in Trabzond the person in charge of the parish Saint Mary, where in February 2006 the priest Andrea Santoro, an Italian missionary, had been assassinated with the cry “Allah is great“, while he prayed on the last bench of his church after mass. Our chaplain could celebrate a requiem for this martyr in this church. In addition we had amongst our 17 pilgrims an Aramean survivor whose family had to flee from eastern Turkey. He made us understand the terrible fate of the Christians under the Turkish Islam, old and modern.

- RU: What did the nuncio say to you?

- WW: He is from Italy, Mgr. Lucibello, pleasant and accessible. He pursues the Vatican strategy to support first of all the progress of laicism, before thinking about a possible re-evangelization. That seemed to us very fainthearted, and even dangerous. We could say to the nuncio that, in our humble opinion, it was his duty to negotiate bell-towers against minarets with the Turkish authorities, knowing that the Turks can build, for example in Germany, as many mosques as they want, without granting an authorization of construction of one single church in Turkey. You see, the discussion with the nuncio was direct, and perhaps productive.

- RU: Are there still Christians in the east of Turkey?

- WW: No. They have all been assassinated or driven out, besides a few tens of Christians who are still living in the Tur Abdin region, an area which we could unfortunately not visit because of the current military movements (Kurdistan). The last Catholic church yet open in the east of the country is the one at Trabzond on the Black Sea. Elsewhere, nothing. And even at Trabzond there is no more any resident priest. Ani was during centuries the Christian capital of Armenia: today it’s a mass grave of churches whose ruins are towering over 10 km2 like fingers which show to the sky, in an immense stone field where nobody is living. One of our pilgrims exclaimed: “And if it were the aspect of Paris in a few decades?” Terrible interrogation, however realistic.

- RU: Do you see a Turkish threat for European Christianity?

- WW: Yes. Their Islam is sharp, aggressive and challenging. Not only do the muezzins awake you each night between 3 and 4 hours “for praying to Allah” - where is “laicism”? -, but all Turkish youth seems to adhere to the idea of a modern Islam, even if there are only 12 to 15% of young people who want the introduction of Chariah.

- RU: Do you see a Christian strategy against Islam after your pilgrimage to Turkey?

- WW: There is no Christian strategy any more since the crusades. An archbishop told us one day, in Amman in Jordan, that Islam has enchanted those countries, especially the hearts of the men. It’s the religion of male violence, even its paradise. How can we help those men and women? Jesus teaches us: “This kind of demons can only be driven out by fasting and prayer”, a way of saying that it’s God alone who will take care, under the condition however of asking it to him with enthusiasm and personal engagement. That’s what we tried to do during our pilgrimage to the Christian earth of Turkey, and it’s what we will continue to do. Until the present day, all the harmful kingdoms fell, and anti-Christian Turkey will also fall. Meanwhile it would be very dangerous to integrate Turkey into the European Union, as it could definitively poison the rest of still resistant Christianity in Occident. We do not have the same God, or - as Benedict XVI says it more politely - not the same culture.

- RU: a last word?

- WW: We saw the image of the Blessed Virgin Mary on so many frescos and paintings in the ruins of churches in Turkey, even in the most venerable one among them, the Hagia Sophia, but also in Cappadocia, Akthamar, Ani, in the ex-Georgian mountains and at Trabzond. How could she forget such an amount of veneration and love on behalf of the Christians who lived there? This is impossible. She has her strategy which we don’t know. She will be victorious by pressing down the enemies of Christ with her heel, and we are full of confidence in her. - (ru)  


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