Friday, December 01, 2006

Turkey afterwards

Istanbul returns to normality, but deep down something has changed with the Pope\'s visit
by Mavi Zambak
Benedict XVI has returned to Rome, but they're still celebrating his visit at Istanbul's cathedral. "After having felt the Pope's closeness, we feel stronger." The Muslim community also sees the visit positively; the Pope's prayers in the mosque overshadow the Regensburg controversy.
Istanbul --Traffic in Istanbul is slowly getting back to normal. People are back on the streets. Policemen are leaving way to thousands of pedestrians hurrying by and to cars that are back on the road. But young Christians (and not just the young), of varying rites and denominations, continued celebrating, dancing and singing at the top of their lungs, long after Benedict XVI's departure. There was a festive atmosphere, despite the cold, in the small courtyard of the Holy Spirit Church, in the shade of the imposing statues of Benedict XV and John XXIII: they are certain that it was these two predecessors who gave strength, courage and a great sense of freedom to "their" Pope. Who is one of them now. Everything went well, much better than actually expected. And they are euphoric: they feel loved, valued, revived.
"Of course, we'll go back to our daily lives, our labours, our worries, our dreams in a few hours, but nothing will be the same," says Rakel with a smile bursting with joy: "We wanted to show the Holy Father our affection and we asked that he return it somehow. That he let us know that he's near to us, that we're in his heart. And now we're sure of this. Last night when he looked out of the Nunciature's window, where we had gathered unexpectedly to cheer him, we felt the warmth of his embrace, his wishes for a good night, his expression of understanding for our difficulties, but also that he will be with us more than ever after today. Many of us had tears in our eyes. But now we feel there's new life and new hope in us to face the future."
The same had happened in Ephesus. There were but a few Christians who had arrived from far-off Anatolia; they felt at home in Mary's house. Pope Benedict had a personal word, a handshake and a blessing for everyone. He listened carefully to everyone, he noticed everyone. And they too felt welcomed, loved and encouraged.
And this morning, gathering together in the Cathedral of Istanbul, where there was singing in Aramaic, Arabic, Turkish, English and Latin, created a sense of communion which is already a gift of the bridges that the Pontiff wanted to build during this visit to Turkey. At the end, there was an explosive and long applause, with a chorus of voices spontaneously cheering in unison "Long live Benedict!"
Everyone was surprised by this "new version" of Ratzinger, who had been so discredited, before his arrival, by local mass media and certain extremist fringes. "I did not expect to find myself in front of a man who is so humble and reserved, but also attentive, smiling and serene: his courage to come him -- despite the many threats and protests -- gave us courage as well. The freedom of his gestures taught also us to not be afraid and to live our freedom fully," said whole-heartedly an older Christian man, distinguished in his tie and jacket, but whose eyes filled with tears for the warm, prolonged and strong handshake given to him by the Pope.
And this is also the impression of various Muslims: the Pope's visit, with his gestures of humility at the Saint Sophia Museum, at the Blue Mosque, with the Director of Religious Affairs, with Ergodan and at the tomb of Ataturk, gave a new image to the universal leader of Catholics. A more likeable and friendly one.
No one is asking, for now, why he did not excuse himself for his speech at Regensburg. This seems to have dropped into the background after he prayed silently in the mosque, holding his hands together the way Muslims do. This was a sign for most people of great respect and esteem.
After three days in which everything seemed hushed and suspended, chaotic Istanbul seems to have reawakened. But deep down something has changed.
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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I have not shared your admiration for Ratzinger but I think that we have seen him presenting the Christian message at its best on this visit.
He has been truly heroic, respecting the values of others but also being steadfast in the Catholic Tradition.
Ecumenism and inter-faith dialogue must be centered on the East, his dogged search for truth will serve it well.