Turkey. The Pope’s visit to an Assumptionist land

 

The Pope’s recent visit to Turkey, from November 28 to December 1, was a good opportunity to visit our brothers and sisters in Istanbul, to discover their way of life and to reflect on the reality of the Assumptionist presence in this country. It was in Istanbul (ancient Constantinople) that everything began for the Assumptionist Mission in Eastern Europe (‘Mission d’Orient’), even if the first foundation in Turkey would only be established some twenty years later.
 
The first Assumptionist to arrive in this country was Fr. Galabert, at the end of 1862; shortly thereafter, Fr. d’Alzon himself spent a lengthy time there at the beginning of 1863. In 1895 Pope  Leo XIII entrusted to the Assumptionists the Greek-rite and Latin-rite parish of Kadiköy (ancient Chalcedon, which, at present,  is a part of the eastern region of Istanbul). History records a dialogue which would have taken place in front of the actual church between Fr. d’Alzon and the representative of the Holy See at the time, Fr. Negri. The latter was complaining of the reduction in the number of Christians because of the restrictions imposed by the Muslim authorities and he would have exclaimed : “No Christian would have the courage to stay.” D’Alzon would have replied, “My sons will stay here.” 
 

Today Istanbul is a city of more than 11 million inhabitants where you can see a minaret at every street corner; at the same time, the muezzin never cease to remind you with their voices amplified by loud-speakers that here God is called Allah.


 Still, this city and this country were the cradle of the Christian faith.
 Here it was that the Fathers of the Church defined our Creed, called to this day the Niceno-Constantinopalitan Creed; it was in Turkey that that the first seven ecumenical councils took place; it was at Constantinople that St. John Chrysostom exercised his ministry as bishop. In this city, one feels both a stranger and at home because until May 29, 1453, the date of the conquest of the city by  the Ottoman Turks, the inhabitants prayed to the God of Jesus Christ. One has a strange feeling of a certain nostalgia mixed with the desire for dialogue and greater understanding.
 
Our Assumptionist presence in this multicolored and bustling city is really a drop in the ocean. At present, the community is made up of Fr. Xavier Jacob, 80 years old, who has spent more than 50 years in Turkey, and Fr. Yves Plunian, 73, who arived in Turkey 11 years ago, after a long period as a missionary in Brazil. The community of the Oblate Sisters is made up of Sr. Françoise, Sr. Odile, and Sr. Monica, the only young element in the group. It is an aging reality both in terms of the religious and the buildings.  The “palazzo” which has housed the religious community from the beginning really needs a lot of renovation. It is sad to see what remains of the once glorious Byzantine library, where generations of Assumptionists worked and where the famous journal “Echos d’Orient” was born, now neglected for lack of reinforcements to care for it.
 
“Finally I want to greet the representatives of other ecclesial communities and other religions who  wished to be present here with us. How can we not think of the different events which formed our common history in this very place? At the same time, I feel obliged to recall in a particular way the numerous witnesses of the Gospel of Christ, who urge us on to work together for the unity of all his disciples, in truth and in charity.”

These words of Benedict XVI’s homily delivered on the occasion  of the Mass on December 1 in the Cathedral of the Holy Spirit show well how much of a priority ecumenism and interreligious dialogue are for the Pope.
 
“How can we not think of the different events which formed our common history in this very place?”

In this land of Turkey, and notably in Istanbul, there is a common history for several religions. This land is not only a Muslim land.; it is also a Christian land and a land of all those who seek God.  It takes courage to stay here. I am not speaking of the courage of men and women religious who are now located here, those who have already given so much and will not be able to continue for long. I am speaking of the courage of the entire Assumption Family.

The community of Istanbul is a patrimony which belongs to all of us (men and women religious and lay-people). All of us must feel implicated. There is so much to do and this requires new forces ready to undertake it.
 
Many are the signs of the times which show us how much the desire for interreligious dialogue and  commitment to the building of Christian unity are expressions of the breath of the Spirit, who is showing us the way. It is not easy, because, as our fathers who live there explained to us so well, Turkey may officially guarantee religious freedom, but in practice those who are not Muslim face enormous and subtle discrimination. Here we need young religious, men and women, and young lay-people ready to get involved in a difficult, but fascinating, task.
 
“My sons will stay here.”
 
May this desire of our founder live on with the awakening of new forces.

P.C.

       

L'église de la communauté l'autel où a célèb la messe le Père d'Alzon hôtes de la communauté soeur Françoise

Le père Ives et soeur Odile

La messe du Pape le1er décembre dans la Cathédrale du Saint-Esprit

La messe du Pape le1er décembre dans la Cathédrale du Saint-Esprit

Soeur Felicia, le P. Caludio, le P. Bernard, le P. Andrè, Enayr et le P. Xavier.

Soeur Odile et soeur Monica Benoît XVI et Mgr. Pelatre La bibliothèque de la communauté photo communautaire

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