On November 28, 2006, Pope Benedict will make an apostolic journey to the predominantly-Muslim country of Turkey. After the Regensburg address and the ensuing controversy, all eyes will be on the Benedict’s visitation with Catholic and Orthodox Christian minority. Following are some background articles and commentary on the Pope’s journey this week.
- “The Passion of the Pope”, by David Van Biema, Jeff Israely. (Time Nov. 19, 2006):
when Benedict XVI travels to Turkey next week on his first visit to a Muslim country since becoming Pope last year, he is unlikely to cloak himself in a downy banner of brotherhood, the way his predecessor did 27 years ago. Instead, Benedict, 79, will arrive carrying a different reputation: that of a hard-knuckle intellect with a taste for blunt talk and interreligious confrontation. Just 19 months into his tenure, the Pope has become as much a moral lightning rod as a theologian; suddenly, when he speaks, the whole world listens. And so what takes place over four days in three Turkish cities has the potential to define his papacy–and a good deal more.
Time provides background to the papal visit by noting the contrast between Benedict’s reaction toward Islam with what is oft-perceived as an overly-congenial approach of his predecessor:
Unlike John Paul, who had a big-tent approach, Ratzinger has always favored bright theological lines and correspondingly high walls between creeds he regards as unequally meritorious. His long-standing habit is to correct any aide who calls a religion other than Christianity or Judaism a “faith.” . . .
That approach includes Islam. In Ratzinger’s 1996 interview book Salt of the Earth (with Peter Seewald), he noted that “we must recognize that Islam is not a uniform thing. No one can speak for [it] as a whole. There is a noble Islam, embodied, for example, by the King of Morocco, and there is also the extremist, terrorist Islam, which, again, one must not identify with Islam as a whole, which would do it an injustice.” This sophisticated understanding, however, did not keep Ratzinger from slapping down a bishop who wanted to invite peaceable Muslims to a papal ceremony in Fatima, Portugal, or, in 2004, from objecting to Turkish E.U. entry on grounds that it has always been “in permanent contrast to Europe,” a contrast his other writings made clear had much to do with religion.
Islam played a particular role–as both a threat and a model–in the drama that probably lies closest to Benedict’s heart: the secularization of Christian Europe. In the same 1996 book, he wrote that “the Islamic soul reawakened” in reaction to the erosion of the West’s moral stature during the 1960s. Ratzinger paraphrased that soul’s new song: “We know who we are; our religion is holding its ground; you don’t have one any longer. We have a moral message that has existed without interruption since the prophets, and we will tell the world how to live it, where the Christians certainly can’t.”
While Time emphasizes one side of Benedict’s response, it is certainly not the only one. Benedict’s August 2005 address to Muslim community in Cologne, Germany and his recent reception and dialogue with Islamic scholars (responding to the Regensberg address) reveals a side much more akin to that of his predecessor.
Time‘s feature on the Pope also contains a brief point / counterpoint — “What the Pope Gets Right”, by Fr. Richard John Neuhaus:
It is noteworthy, however, that the Pope has not retreated from his challenge to Islam. Moreover, under his leadership, the Vatican has taken a much stronger line in insisting on “reciprocity” in relations with Islam. Mosques proliferate throughout cities in the West, while any expression of non-Islamic religion is strictly forbidden in many Muslim countries. In the Vatican and elsewhere, the feeling has been growing that the way of tolerance, dialogue and multicultural sensitivity can no longer be a one-way street. In fact, that shift predates Benedict’s papacy. In his 1994 book, Crossing the Threshold of Hope, John Paul II said complimentary things about the piety of Muslims. But John Paul concluded his discussion of Islam with this: “For [these reasons] not only the theology but also the anthropology of Islam is very distant from Christianity.”
and from Tariq Ramadan, on “Where [Benedict XVI] is Still In the Dark”:
this profoundly European Pope is inviting the people of his continent to become aware of the central, inescapable character of Christianity within their identity, or risk losing it. That may be a legitimate goal, but Benedict’s narrow definition of European identity is deeply troubling and potentially dangerous. This is what Muslims must respond to: the tendency of Westerners to ignore the critical role that Muslims played in the development of Western thought. . . .
What the West needs most today is not so much a dialogue with other civilizations but an honest dialogue with itself–one that acknowledges those traditions within Western civilization that are almost never recognized. Europe, in particular, must learn to reconcile itself with the diversity of its past in order to master the coming pluralism of its future.
The Pope’s visit to Turkey presents an opportunity to put forward the true terms of the debate over the relationship between Islam and the West.
Time identifies the author of the latter article as “a research fellow at Oxford,” and was elsewhere hailed by Time as part of “the next wave” of spiritual leaders and innovators.
A discussion of Ramadan may be tangential to this roundup, but some bloggers couldn’t help but note his status as the grandson of Hassan al-Banna, founder of the Muslim Brotherhood. On September 20, 2006, he was denied a visa on grounds of his contribution to a charity-front for the Palestinian terrorist group Hamas, which followed the 2004 revocation of his visa to live and work in the U.S. (See “The State Dept. was Right Weekly Standard Oct. 16, 2006).
The Italian journalist Sandro Magister profiled Ramadan (“Tariq Ramadan’s Two-Faced Islam. The West Is the Land of Conquest” http://www.Chiesa January 19, 2004).
- Turkey’s unique history a challenge for this academic pope National Catholic Reporter Nov. 17, 2006. John Allen, Jr. provides some helpful background, addressing the Pope’s demand for “reciprocity” — “meaning the demand that religious minorities in Islamic states should receive the same rights and freedoms as Muslims in the West”:
Reciprocity is a core element of Benedict’s challenge to Muslims — inviting them to embrace reason with respect to religious affairs — and the dismal conditions facing Turkey’s small Christian population, including the tiny flock of the Patriarch of Constantinople, offers a classic case in point.
Benedict will have to choose his words carefully, however, because there’s a unique history in Turkey that could easily make such a challenge sound like a threat. Over the centuries, European powers repeatedly intervened in Turkey to demand special privileges for Christians, a process that many Turks associate with the slow undermining of the Ottoman Empire. If the pope is to avoid awakening those historical ghosts, he’ll have to find a vocabulary that makes it clear he’s talking about a matter of universal human dignity, not about special treatment for Christians.
Signs of Trouble
- Ali Bardakoglu, President of Religious Affairs in Turkey, is hardly enamored with Benedict’s approach to Islam, denouncing his Regensburg address as “An Attack on the Pillars of Islam”. Der Spiegel interviewed the dignitary on the Regensburg controversy and the Pope’s impending visit:
SPIEGEL: It’s been 27 years since since a pope last visited Turkey, a Muslim country. What does the visit mean for your country?
Bardakoglu: Whenever a religious leader visits other countries, it means that religious leader is ready to engage in dialogue. That’s important. If we want to get a grip on the world’s problems, we have to speak to each other. Our problems don’t originate in the religions themselves. The leaders can help ensure that people from various cultures develop an understanding for one another.
Unfortunately, the notion of religiously-motivated violence is not an issue for Bardakoglu:
SPIEGEL: What was wrong with the speech?
Bardakoglu: It was an attack, strongly colored by prejudice, on the three pillars of Islam: faith, the Koran and the prophet Muhammad — without any reference to a specific event from the history of Islam. Whoever portrays the Koran and the prophet as the causes of the problems hasn’t understood Islam.
SPIEGEL: You spoke of the Pope having “hatred in his heart” and accused him of cultivating a way of thinking that resembles that of the crusaders.
Bardakoglu: A person who says the prophet is the source of violence, and that the Koran is the cause of the aberrations, isn’t formulating criticism but rather condemning and insulting Islam. The fact that the speaker is merely repeating a quotation does not diminish the mistake.
See also: Reconstruction of a Global Crisis: How the Pope Angered the Muslim World Der Spiegel Nov. 24, 2006.
- Sales of Pope Murder Book Soar Ahead of Benedict XVI’s Visit (Adnkronos International (AKI) Nov. 22, 2006). As reported in one of our earlier roundups, sales of a Turkish novel fantasizing about the murder of the Holy Father are increasing in anticipation of the papal visit:
The Plot Against The Pope is a highly speculative potboiler narrating how the conservative Roman Catholic society Opus Dei, a subversive masonic lodge and the CIA collude to make the pontiff’s murder a pretext for a US attack against Iran.
Yuvel Kaya’s book, which features Benedict XVI in front of a burning cross with a bearded gunman aiming a rocket launcher at him, is on sale at major Turkish bookstores such as D&R, Kabalci, Pandora.
Despite the absence of any promotional campaign – no billboards, posters or pamphlets at bookstores – sales are rapidly picking up, according to Lale Yilmaz from Kabalci, one the country’s biggest book stores. However she told Adnkronos International (AKI) exact sales figures could not be released to the public.
“More copies of the book have been bought over the last 10 days than any other time,” Zeynep Yaman an employee with Alfa Dagitim, one of the six companies distributing the books, told AKI.
No matter how distasteful the subject of this book may be – not to mention that it is getting free press and distracting attention away from the positive message of this historic visit – we should question if there isn’t journalistic hype at play.
Interestingly enough, people seem to be missing one point.
At least from what I have read the book doesn’t argue that Muslims will kill the Pope. Instead, according to Kaya’s novel, the Pope is being targeted by, get this, Catholics.
And not just any Catholics, but by Dan Brown’s favorite nemesis – Opus Dei.
- Shouting “Allahu akbar,” Muslim protestors occuppied the Hagia Sophia in Instanbul on Wednesday, to protest the Pope’s visit (Protesters occupying building detained” – a rather innocuous title?):
The protesters belong to the Great Unity Party, a far right-wing group that has previously staged demonstrations against the planned Nov. 28-Dec. 1 visit.
They entered the 6th century former Byzantine church and mosque, shouting “Allahu akbar!” — “God is great!” — and then knelt to perform Islamic prayers.
They also shouted a warning to Benedict: “Pope, don’t make a mistake, don’t wear out our patience.”
A group leader read a statement saying Benedict had offended Muslims with his comments linking violence and Islam, but the reading was interrupted by police. . . . Benedict is scheduled to tour the Haghia Sophia, which is a source of religious sensitivity in Turkey. It was one of the world’s greatest churches for more than 1,000 years, but was converted into a mosque after the conquest of Istanbul by Ottoman Turks in 1453. Today, the Haghia Sophia is a museum, and public religious ceremonies inside are forbidden.
Responding to the incident, Cardinal Raffaele Martino dismissed the protest:
“One shouldn’t accord to much importance to this episode,” Cardinal Raffaele Martino, president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace said in a statement.
“Some things are just isolated events and don’t reflect the views of the entire population.”
39 of the Hagia Sophia protestors — 14 of them under the age of 18 — were detained and later released, according to the Turkish newspaper Zaman.
The Catholic Apostolic Vicar of Anatolia, Luigi Padovese claimed the Hagia Sophia protest was organised by ultranationalist militants “for political, not religious ends”, and that “The purpose of such protests is to keep Europe as far away as possible from Turkey,” (Adnkronos International (AKI) Nov. 22, 2006).
- Indifference, antipathy and scarce approval as Turkey awaits Pope, by Mavi Zambak. AsiaNews.It Nov. 24, 2006:
The latest surveys carried in Turkey’s main newspapers with nationwide coverage, reveal that only 10% of Turks approve the pope’s visit, 38% are decidedly against while another 38% are indifferent. And 14% preferred not to express their opinion.
However, even if they may not declare themselves to be hostile to the pope, people admit they are afraid something could happen. Despite constant assurances from police and security officials, many are not so sure that everything will go smoothly, and they fear unexpected hazards. Mehmet Ali Solak, an Alevite, director of the “Guvey Ruzgari” (southern wind) magazine, admitted to fears that someone may seek to attempt to assassinate the Pope, or even just to create unrest to discredit Turkey, and to shift the blame onto the Turks. Acknowledging that this was one reason why many would prefer Benedict XVI to stay at home, Solak echoed the views of a good part of the Turkish population (especially religious and ethnic minorities and also some Christians).
But there are also those who expect strong words of support from the Pope with regard to authentic freedom and democracy, against the Islamization that increasingly threatens to destroy the true secularism of the country. Thus, the daily Sabah, an extreme right Kemalist, summed up its thinking in a front page cartoon depicting a blurred crowd of people appealing to the figure of the Pope, saying “You save us”.
Christian Anticipation of the Papal Visit
- Interview with Father Justo Lacunza Balda of the Missionaries of Africa, a professor of the Pontifical Institute for Arabic and Islamic Studies of Rome (PISAI):
Q: The Pope is going to Turkey in a few days on a trip that has aroused high expectations. Why is it a difficult trip?
Father Lacunza: Turkey is a lay, democratic and secular republic. The state has no official religion, but we must not forget that the majority of the population in Turkey is Muslim.
Therefore, the relations of the Catholic Church come into play with a country of Muslim majority, and this is difficult from the point of view of Christian minorities, religious liberty and pastoral activities.
It is a difficult trip because at stake in this crucial moment is Turkey’s entrance into the European Community.
Personally, I don’t see why Turkey should be part of the European Union. Suffice it to see its geographic situation to realize this. Have we forgotten that Turkey has borders with Iran, Iraq and Syria?
Readers might recall that, in August 2004, then-Cardinal Ratzinger caused a bit of a stir by challenging Turkey’s bid to join the European Union:
“In the course of history, Turkey has always represented a different continent, in permanent contrast to Europe,” Ratzinger told the magazine, noting that the history of Ottoman Empire, which once invaded Europe as far as Vienna. “Making the two continents identical would be a mistake,” he said. “It would mean a loss of richness, the disappearance of the cultural to the benefit of economics.” The born cardinal said Turkey “could try to set up a cultural continent with neighboring Arab countries and become the leading figure of a culture with its own identity.”
According to Zenit News Service, “about 99% of Turkey’s 70 million inhabitants are Muslim, the majority Sunni. Catholics represent 0.04% of the population.”
- Conventual Franciscan Friar Martin Kmetec describes Benedict XVI’s forthcoming visit to Turkey as a “courageous gesture” – In an interview with ZENIT, Father Kmetec, a Slovenian missionary in Turkey, paints a picture of the nation the Pope will visit next week and explains that Catholics there are preparing for this event with hope. (Zenit News Service. Nov. 11, 2006):
Q: What is the Catholic reality in Turkey? How are Catholics preparing for this visit and what do they expect from the Pope?
Father Kmetec: Catholics in Turkey, those who are established, are close to 30,000. They are preparing spiritually for this visit with prayer.
An attempt is made in Sunday Masses to underline that Christians urgently need a spiritual renewal of life, according to the principles of the Gospel. This must be the fruit of the Pope’s visit among us.
For this occasion, Bishop Luigi Padovese, apostolic vicar of Anatolia, addressed a letter to his faithful on the topic of hope, which is essential not only for the Church of Anatolia but for all Turkey’s Christians.
Our communities must face daily not a few difficulties of an economic order; above all, however, they must be able to react to an inferiority complex in the face of an oppressive Muslim majority, which makes them feel oppressed and can make them think that they are the “infidels.”
Q: Given the latest events, is there concern over security, or are only some isolated cases of intolerants to be feared?
Father Kmetec: I am sure that there are no problems in regard to the safety of the person of the Supreme Pontiff. The Turkish state will do everything possible so that this visit will unfold without major incidents.
One cannot exclude, however, some small demonstration or some isolated case of reaction, but certainly not in the course of the papal itinerary.
- Providing an illustration to the challenges faced by Christians in Turkey, Two men who converted to Christianity went on trial Thursday for allegedly insulting “Turkishness” and inciting religious hatred against Islam (Associated Press, Nov. 23, 2006):
Hakan Tastan, 37, and Turan Topal, 46, are accused of making the insults and of inciting hate while allegedly trying to convert other Turks to Christianity. If convicted, the two Turkish men could face up to nine years in prison.
The men were charged under Turkey’s Article 301, which has been used to bring charges against dozens of intellectuals — including Nobel Prize-winner Orhan Pamuk.
The law has widely been condemned for severely limiting free expression and European officials have demanded Turkey change it as part of reforms to join the EU.
They also are charged under a law against inciting hatred based on religion.
- Update! – 25,000 Protest Pope’s Visit to Turkey Associated Press Nov. 26, 2006:
More than 25,000 people joined demonstrations Sunday against Pope Benedict XVI’s upcoming visit, police said.
The demonstration was the largest anti-pope protest so far ahead of Benedict’s arrival Tuesday for a four-day visit, his first as pope to a predominantly Muslim country. Some 4,000 police backed by riot trucks, armored vehicles and helicopters monitored the protest as the crowds grew.
The protest was organized by a pro-Islamic political party called Felicity whose leaders have said they were offended by Benedict’s comments in September linking violence and Islam.
(Further coverage of this on American Papist).
- Mossad in Turkey to Assist Pope’s Security – Zaman Nov. 26, 2006:
The Italian daily La Republica has reported that Mossad agents and Italian and Vatican security and intelligence officers have arrived in Turkey to help Turkish security units.
La Republica also reported that security units in Istanbul arrested a group in preparation for an attack on the pope a few weeks ago in Istanbul.
However, no detailed information was given on the identity and nationality of the suspects.
- Pope death threats put Turkey on high alert, by Malcolm Moore in Rome, Sunday Telegraph Nov. 26, 2006 :
An army of snipers, riot police, secret agents and bomb disposal experts has been mobilised for the Pope’s four-day visit to Turkey. Naval units will patrol the Bosphorus armed with machine guns after warnings to police and security services that the life of Benedict XVI may be threatened by Islamic extremists after he arrives on Tuesday.
Celalettin Cerrah, the police chief in Istanbul, said that the city would have maximum security and warned that he would “call for reinforcements from nearby cities” if needed. Fears within the Vatican, which has been making preparations on the ground for the past month, were heightened when a man lunged at Archbishop Pierluigi Celata, the former papal ambassador to Turkey, who was on a advance scouting mission in his Catholic robes.
The archbishop said he hoped the attack was an “isolated case” and that the Pope would be met with the “hospitality that is typical of the Turkish and Muslim people”.
- Writing for the Turkish Daily News, Mustafa Aykol introduces us to “The Turkish Side of Things”: How Turks see the Pope (Nov. 25 / 26, 2006) — a two-part series covering Turkish opposition to the papal visit:
Thanks to the reports of the international fine print, many must have been informed that the fiercest opponents of the pope’s visit are Turkish nationalists. But these folks do not form a homogenous crowd. They may fit into one of three broad categories: the pure nationalists, the Islamic nationalists and the secular nationalists (aka Kemalists) . . .
Part II of Aykol’s series on How Turks see the Pope (Part II) covers the historical motivation of the purely secular nationalists:
Among those Turkish nationalists who do not welcome Pope Benedict XVI, the third category would be secular nationalists, who are in line with the anti-EU forces in Turkey’s civil and military bureaucracy. They see the whole West as an imperialist enemy dying to carve Turkey into pieces by re-implementing the infamous Treaty of Sèvres — a 1920 document that only a handful of non-Turkish historians but the whole Turkish nation remembers. For them Pope Benedict XVI is simply the religious face of “Western imperialism.” His effort to consolidate Christianity is interpreted as the preparation for a new Crusade. . . .
- TurkishPress.com – Includes daily aggregated news and Turkish media review compiled by the Office of the Prime Minister.
- Zaman – Turkey’s first online daily.
- Turkish Daily News – Turkey’s largest circulation English daily newspaper.
- An Interactive History of Turkey, courtesy of The Guardian (UK).
- “Pope Benedict is scheduled to make a “touristic” visit to the Haghia Sophia – the Church of Divine Wisdom – when he visits Istanbul. This enormous and enormously influential Byzantine-era structure is certainly a must-see. Erected during the reign of the Roman emperor Justinian, it was completed in just 6 years by 10,000 workmen and inaugurated in 537. In a wise move, Ataturk made it a museum in 1934.” Posting to The Pope Benedict Forum, Rcesq recently visited Instanbul and has generously provided us with A Look Inside the Haghia Sophia.
- The Ecumenical Patriarchate is the highest see and holiest center of the Orthodox Christian Church throughout the world. It is an institution with a history spanning seventeen centuries, during which it retained its see in Constantinople (present-day Istanbul). It constitutes the center of all the local Orthodox Churches, heading these not by administration but by virtue of its primacy in the ministry of pan-Orthodox unity and the coordination of the activity of the whole of Orthodoxy. The website of the Ecumenical Patriarchate already features biography of Bartholomew, Archbishop of Constantinople and our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI. The official online photo gallery which will showcase photos from the events of the Papal Visit to the Ecumenical Patriarchate.
In the latest issue of Newsweek (Dec. 4, 2006 issue), George Weigel draws attention to the Turkish government’s oppression of the Ecumenical Patriarchate:
[I]t is Turkish law, not the canons of the Orthodox Church, that determines who is eligible to be elected ecumenical patriarch, and Turkish law limits the pool of possible candidates to Turkish citizens living in Turkey. As a recent memorandum from the Ecumenical Patriarchate put it, “the result of these restrictions is that in the not so distant future the Ecumenical Patriarchate may not be able to elect a Patriarch.”
The Turkish government closed the patriarchate’s seminary, the Theological School of Halki, in 1971, and has refused, despite numerous requests, to reopen it.
- An Itinerary of Benedict XVI’s Trip to Turkey has been published by the Vatican.
- By way of Blog by the Sea:
The Knights of Columbus has organized a spiritual pilgrimage to accompany the Pope in prayer as he journeys to Turkey, beginning tomorrow with the Solemnity of Christ the King. Printable (.pdf) versions of the prayer can be downloaded from the K of C site.