I’m cutting my trip to Turkey short. I have a little detour that I am taking. I was invited to witness to the Church in Asia at the planning conference for the World Congress on Mercy in Rome which will take place next year. I was invited to do so by Msgr. Ramirez, the pastor of St. John the Baptist in Quiapo, the Phillippines. Everything worked out in the schedule, so I couldn’t say “no” to him. The only difficulty in honoring his request was that I had already bought my tickets to fly to Tel Aviv from Istanbul, so now I am flying to Rome, then back to Istanbul, then to Israel, just in case anyone is wondering why the journey is becoming so jig-jagged.
I will come back to Istanbul in a few days to see a little more of the Istanbul churches of the Byzantine era, but that is for another day. For now, I return to Rome.
For your convenience, I have put the churches that I visited in Turkey into one Google Earth Pictorial. If you have downloaded Google Earth onto your computer, you can view the pictorial by clicking here. It is interesting to see in one map the locations of the Seven Churches of the Book of Revelation.
I had several people write me to be safe when I entered Turkey. They were a little concerned about the political climate here. Before arriving, there had been news reports of the political demonstrations in Turkey. There is a potential that a president may be elected who has shown tendencies of more fundamentalist, Islamic policies.
Even while I was here, I was only 40 minutes away from a major demonstration in Turkey of 1.5 million people who gathered in Izmir. It was all over the international news media. I got an email or two from people who were concerned. I was always safe. Avoiding large mobs carrying effigies has always come naturally to me. You just take a slight detour.
Not only did I not have any problems with any Muslim extremists or political activists, my experience in Turkey was quite the opposite. I had a Muslim tour guide, who showed the utmost respect and consideration for my beliefs. This was arranged by a Muslim travel agency who is directed by Akin. He met with me my last day in Kusadasi, Turkey.
Who knows, maybe people in Turkey are the exception, but Akin is a perfect example of what I already knew. There are Muslims who want to live in peace.
“We all came from the same God. Why does that lead some to want to kill each other just because we have different stories, different bibles, and different ways of doing things? We are all brothers and sisters of each other. We have to live in solidarity with one another, otherwise we’re going to all end up dead by killing each other.”
A smile gleams across my face.
“So you’ve registered on my website?”
“Yes. I was very interested in your project.”
“Do you have any idea what AD SODALITATEM means?”
“How do you say it again?”
There are many of you across the world and across America who do not have regular contact with Muslims. Well… if you’ve registered on this website, then you now are participating in a system that has contact with Muslims. Congratulations.
There are many of us who are just sick of the way in which the differences we experience as human beings are used by thieves to support a narrow worldview calling for the inhalation of those with whom they disagree. And for what? Time and again, it seems the only benefit to be had, is the preservation of power, held by the ones who are interpreting for us (either politically or religiously) their limited reading of some “holy text.”
“It means towards solidarity… You used the word solidarity a minute ago. That is the whole point of AD SODALITATEM. Sure we’re Christian, you’re Muslim, but we want the same thing.” I tell Akin as I say a little prayer of Thanksgiving and think, “How does God keep putting me in contact with these kinds of people?”
“Well did you know that in the Koran, Mohammed said….” Akin continues.
“No I didn’t, did you know that Jesus said…” I add.
“Really? Did you know that Mohammed said there is one Allah because….”
“Did you know that Arab Christians used to use the name Allah in prayer before Mohammed? There are Catholics in Malaysia who…”
And so we had a CONVERSATION for three hours, each one of us contributing more and more from our unique traditions, building one another up, and supporting each other’s ideas. I don’t know that I converted to Islam, or he converted to Christianity, but I just want to point out that the word CONVERSION has the same hermeneutic roots as CONVERSATION. Maybe that is what we are really called to do when we are challenged to convert the world. Maybe it is about engaging the world in a conversation about God’s love, not human’s selfishness.
Akin shared with me his fears, there is growing that Muslim extremist are going to dominate the Turkish government, but the extremist groups only represent 30% of the country. The problem is that the other 70% doesn’t know how to organize.
For the rest of us living outside of Turkey, it gives us something to pray about. There are courageous men and women living in Turkey who are passionate about a world in which peace is the answer. They too, are afraid of the implications of the Muslims extremists who are seeking power within the state. Their witness, to both peace and Islam, deserves our respect and support, however we can give it.After all, we really are brothers and sisters to each other.