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Placing the Pope’s Visit to Turkey in Context

November 25, 2006

Fr. Martin Kmetec, a Conventional Franciscan missionary in Turkey, was recently interviewed on the eve of Pope Benedict XVI’s visit to Turkey.

Fr. Kmetec insists that the Pope’s main purpose for the visit–which corresponds with the feast of St. Andrew the Apostle (Nov. 30th), who is traditionally attributed with investing the Patriarchate of Constantinople with its apostolicity and authority–will be dialogue with the leaders of the Greek Orthodox Church:

However, we can be sure — the Pope himself has repeated it several times — that the invitation to dialogue will be the dominant note of his conversations and addresses. Above all, the intensification of dialogue with the Ecumenical Patriarchate, which in a certain sense will be of interest not only to the Orthodox Church in Turkey but to the whole of Orthodoxy worldwide.

Fr. Kmetec also describes the prepartion of Turkey’s Catholic faithful, who number roughly 30,000 in a country still dominated religiously and culturally by Islam:

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.”

Fr. Kmetec remarks on the present situation of dialogue between Christians and Muslims in Turkey:

The areas of collaboration are very restricted. As a Franciscan Community, we live in open dialogue with all the people we meet. It is a way of presence, which stems from following St. Francis, a way of bringing hope and salvation to all men.

Except for Muslim-Christian symposiums, there is no other collaboration with the Catholic Church. The Catholic Church is not recognized by the state as a moral institution. This prevents the possibility of cooperation even in the charitable apostolate, though Caritas, as an organization of the Vatican State, provides considerable aid in the social realm.

However, the Christian community of faithful born in Turkey are happy enough if they can live in peace with others in their daily life, in work relationships and in simple interpersonal relations.

In his concluding remarks, Fr. Kmetec reflects on the underlying quid pro quo in terms of the outcome of the papal visit from the Turkish political persepective:

In my opinion, the state apparatus as well as the politicians want to give a good image and see the Pope’s visit as a unique occasion of promotion on the international scene and, in particular, they want Europe to see Turkey’s openness and tolerance.

They play this visit as a card for their candidacy to the European Union. Not lacking, of course, will be those who are obstinate in their prejudices and will continue trying to present the Pope, the Church and Catholics with dark and negative colors.

You can read the entire interview here.

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