Ankara, Turkey, Nov 28, 2006 (CNA) -
At 1pm Turkish-time today Pope Benedict XVI arrived at Ankara, Turkey’s Esemboğa International Airport, for his historic visit. The Pontiff was greeted by Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and, after a brief welcome, traveled by motorcade to the Ataturk Mausoleum.
Touching down amid a large cordon of security, the Pope’s plane was met by the Prime Minister. Erdogan was previously going to miss Benedict’s arrival, due to a NATO meeting in Latvia, but in the last few days adjusted his schedule and delayed his departure.
The two heads of state shook hands and processed from the plane on a red carpet.
"I want to express happiness to see you and your delegation in our country," Erdogan told the Pope. He described the Pope's visit as "very meaningful."
"I really wanted to come to Turkey because Turkey has become a bridge ... between the religions," Benedict reportedly told the Prime Minister through an interpreter.
"It is a democratic, Islamic country and a bridge," the Pope said. "I wanted to come to Turkey since becoming pope because I love this culture."
"I want to reiterate the solidarity between the cultures," Benedict said. "This is our duty."
After a brief, private meeting between the two, the Pontiff was ushered to a bulletproof car, for travel to the mausoleum of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the “Father of Turkey” who was the founder and first president of the modern Turkish Republic.
Pope Benedict stood briefly in prayer at the grave of Ataturk before proceeding to a small podium to sign the mausoleum’s ceremonial guest book.
The Holy Father wrote in the book, “In this land, a meeting point of different religions and cultures, and bridge between Asia and Europe, I gladly make my own the words of the Founder of the Turkish Republic: ‘Peace at Home, peace in the World’.”
The Pope’s trip, which was initially designed as one of primarily eccumenical importance - highlighted by the Holy Father’s visit with the spiritual head of the Orthodox Church - has since taken on a more interreligious and intercultural tone. Many in the largely Islamic country have protested the arrival of the Pontiff, due to a speech he gave earlier this year in Germany which was widely misinterpreted as a direct attack on Islam.
Several Islamic radicals have staged protests in advance of the Pope’s arrival and security has been heightened to protect the Pontiff.
According to the Associated Press, Turkish police monitored the highway leading to Ankara from the airport. And snipers were positioned atop buildings and hilltops. In wooded areas along the route, soldiers in camouflage fatigues set up observation points and sniffer dogs passed along bridges.
Before departing for Ankara, the Pontiff said in Rome that he was embarking on a "trip of dialogue, brotherhood and reconciliation at this difficult moment in history."
After departing from the Ataturk Mausoleum the Pope met privately with the President of Turkey, at the Presidential Palace.
Before the day is over, Pope Benedict will also visit with the President of Religious Affairs for the country and with members of the Diplomatic Corps to Turkey.
Ankara, Turkey, Nov 28, 2006 (CNA) -
Pope Benedict XVI met today with the President of the Religious Affairs Directorate of Turkey, Ali Bardakoglu. The Holy Father remarked on the trememdous history of Turkey and offered his esteem for and desire to work together with the Muslim nation and Islam as a whole, “to live together in harmony, peace, and mutual trust.”
The meeting with the Turkish official was Pope Benedict’s first real opportunity to offer official greetings to the country. The Pope said he was, “grateful for the opportunity to visit this land, so rich in history and culture, to admire its natural beauty, to witness for myself the creativity of the Turkish people, and to appreciate your ancient culture and long history, both civil and religious.”
The Pontiff offered thanks for the reception he received from the President and Prime Minister of Turkey and offered thanks for the opportunity to pay his respects at the tomb of Ataturk, the founder of modern Turkey.
In the presence of the ranking religious official of Turkey, the Pope offered greetings to all religious leaders of Turkey and offered his “particular esteem and affectionate regard,” to, “all the Muslims in Turkey.”
It was Bardakoglu who offered some of the harshest criticisms of the Pontiff after his September address in Regensburg, Germany. Bardakoglu had accused the Pope of harboring "hatred in his heart" for Muslims. He also said in an interview Monday that the visit, although "a step in the right direction," would not suffice to heal the hurt his comments had caused.
The religious affairs minister said, in his meeting with the Pope today, that, "The so-called conviction that the sword is used to expand Islam in the world and growing Islamophobia hurts all Muslims.”
Though Turkey is a secular state, Muslim fundamentalist groups have been growing in power recently. Many Islamic radicals have protested the Pope’s visit to Turkey and have gone so far as to threaten violence against the Holy Father.
Referring repeatedly to the words offered and work done by previous Popes, the Holy Father spoke extensively of the importance of Turkey in the ongoing process of interreligious and intercultural dialogue.
“I love the Turks, I appreciate the natural qualities of these people who have their own place reserved in the march of civilization,” Pope Benedict said, echoing the words of Pope John XXIII who served as Papal Representative to Turkey prior to his election as Pope.
Benedict also quoted Pope John Paul II, who was the last Pope to visit Turkey in 1979, saying, “I wonder if it is not urgent, precisely today when Christians and Muslims have entered a new period of history, to recognize and develop the spiritual bonds that unite us, in order to preserve and promote together, for the benefit of all men, ‘peace, liberty, social justice and moral values.’" (Address to the Catholic Community in Ankara, 28 November 1979)
Approaching, “interreligious and intercultural dialogue with optimism and hope,” remains a necessity today, Pope Benedict said. “It cannot be reduced to an optional extra, on the contrary, it is ‘a vital necessity, on which in large measure our future depends,’” the Pontiff added, quoting from his own address to Muslim religious leaders in Germany last year.
“Christians and Muslims, following their respective religions, point to the truth of the sacred character and dignity of the person,” Benedict said. “This is the basis of our mutual respect and esteem, this is the basis for cooperation in the service of peace between nations and peoples, the dearest wish of all believers and all people of good will.”
“For more than forty years, the teaching of the Second Vatican Council has inspired and guided the approach taken by the Holy See and by local Churches throughout the world to relations with the followers of other religions. Following the Biblical tradition, the Council teaches that the entire human race shares a common origin and a common destiny: God, our Creator and the goal of our earthly pilgrimage,” he continued.
“Christians and Muslims belong to the family of those who believe in the one God and who, according to their respective traditions, trace their ancestry to Abraham,” the Pontiff added, pulling from the Vatican II document ‘Nostra Aetate.’ “This human and spiritual unity in our origins and our destiny impels us to seek a common path as we play our part in the quest for fundamental values so characteristic of the people of our time. As men and women of religion, we are challenged by the widespread longing for justice, development, solidarity, freedom, security, peace, defense of life, protection of the environment and of the resources of the earth. This is because we too, while respecting the legitimate autonomy of temporal affairs, have a specific contribution to offer in the search for proper solutions to these pressing questions.”
“Above all,” Pope Benedict said, Muslims and Christians, “can offer a credible response to the question which emerges clearly from today’s society, even if it is often brushed aside, the question about the meaning and purpose of life, for each individual and for humanity as a whole.”
“We are called to work together, so as to help society to open itself to the transcendent, giving Almighty God his rightful place. The best way forward is via authentic dialogue between Christians and Muslims, based on truth and inspired by a sincere wish to know one another better, respecting differences and recognizing what we have in common. This will lead to an authentic respect for the responsible choices that each person makes, especially those pertaining to fundamental values and to personal religious convictions,” he said.
Pope Benedict then quoted a medieval Pope, “as an illustration of the fraternal respect with which Christians and Muslims can work together.” In 1076, Benedict said, Pope Gregory VII addressed words to a Muslim prince in North Africa, “who had acted with great benevolence towards the Christians under his jurisdiction. Pope Gregory spoke of the particular charity that Christians and Muslims owe to one another ‘because we believe in one God, albeit in a different manner, and because we praise him and worship him every day as the Creator and Ruler of the world.’” It was the controversial quotation of a medieval Christian emperor during his trip to Germany this summer that caused violent protests in the Muslim world.
Pope Benedict also noted during his speech, the historical significance of Turkey pointing out that, “many of the earliest Church communities were founded here and grew to maturity, inspired by the preaching of the Apostles, particularly Saint Paul and Saint John.”
“The tradition has come down to us that Mary, the Mother of Jesus, lived at Ephesus, in the home of the Apostle Saint John.” As such, the Pope said, “your country is very dear to Christians.”
“This noble land has also seen a remarkable flowering of Islamic civilization in the most diverse fields, including its literature and art, as well as its institutions,” he added.
Prior to concluding his remarks, Pope Benedict also addressed the importance of freedom of religion. In recent years incidents of attacks on Christians have increased in Turkey, calling into question the freedom of worship for non-Muslims. “Freedom of religion,” the Pope said, “institutionally guaranteed and effectively respected in practice, both for individuals and communities, constitutes for all believers the necessary condition for their loyal contribution to the building up of society, in an attitude of authentic service, especially towards the most vulnerable and the poor.”
The Holy Father finished his remarks with a prayer of praise to, “the Almighty and merciful God for this happy occasion that brings us together in his name.”
“I pray,” the Pope said of his visit, “that it may be a sign of our joint commitment to dialogue between Christians and Muslims, and an encouragement to persevere along that path, in respect and friendship. May we come to know one another better, strengthening the bonds of affection between us in our common wish to live together in harmony, peace and mutual trust. As believers, we draw from our prayer the strength that is needed to overcome all traces of prejudice and to bear joint witness to our firm faith in God. May his blessing be ever upon us!”
Vatican City, Nov 28, 2006 (CNA) - The Vatican’s Secretary for Relations with States, Archbishop Dominique Mamberti, said he was confident the Turkish people, “will not fail to demonstrate once again their traditional hospitality” during the Pope’s visit to their country, and he said the Pontiff’s discourse in Regensburg last September would end up having a positive influence on the visit.
“I am sure that the Turkish society will not fail to demonstrate once again its traditional hospitality” towards the Holy Father, “a pilgrim of peace and of the dialogue that is taking place in that country following in the footsteps of his predecessors Paul VI and John Paul II and in memory of Blessed John XXIII,” the archbishop said during a interview with the Italian daily “Avvenire.”
Archbishop Mamberti said he was confident that Turkish officials would be able to ensure the Pope’s safety during the four-day visit.
Regarding the influence that Benedict XVI’s lecture in Regensburg last September might have on the trip, Archbishop Mamberti said he believed it would be positive, because the Pope, “will be able to reaffirm that which he has already said, clarifying his thinking regarding the esteem for Muslims, the will to dialogue—which is not sporadic—the possibility of collaborating in the service of man and his needs, overcoming confusion and misunderstandings.”
Turkey and the EU: Holy See has no “official” position
With regards to the question of Turkish entry into the EU, Archbishop Mamberti stressed that the Holy See has not adopted an “official” position on the matter. The Apostolic See “follows the question with great interest and emphasizes that the debate has been taking place for some time and the positions expressed in favor or against the admission of Turkey into the European Union show that what is at stake is of extreme relevance,” he said.
The Vatican official said that if entry into the EU were allowed, Turkey should meet the requirements and obligations as outlined at the Copenhagen Summit of December 2002 and the agreement on Turkish entry into the EU established in June of 2006.
Moscow, Russia, Nov 28, 2006 (CNA) -
The Council of Muftis of Russia has criticized protests against the visit of Pope Benedict XVI to Turkey organized by radical Islamic political parties.
According to the RIA Novosti news agency, the vice president of the Council of Mufties of Russia, Damir Guizatullin, said, “We do not support those actions, which we consider to be counterproductive. We have always held that in order to foster harmony and peace between diverse peoples and religious there needs to be dialogue.”
According to the Muslim leader, the protests do not reflect the opinion of the majority of Turks. Some 100,000 Muslim teachers, as well as the leaders of the country, welcome the visit by the Holy Father.
Guizatullin also said he was asked by Turkey’s Minister for Religious Affairs, during phone call, about how Muslims in Russia feel about the Pope’s visit, and told him Muslims there have no plans to protest the trip, and are actually very much in support of the trip.
“At the Council of Muftis we spoke about the unacceptability of provoking a confrontation between different religions and ethic groups,” Guizatullin stressed.
Washington D.C., Nov 28, 2006 (CNA) - According to a press release from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, the Catholic and Reformed churches have recently made “significant” progress toward mutual understanding, signing a document that recognizes their common baptism.
The Reformed-Catholic Consultation met at Columbia Theological Seminary in Decatur, Georgia, Oct. 8-10. News of the signing was issued on Nov. 22.
“Roman Catholics and representatives of Reformed bodies say clearly to each other, to the larger world, and, - perhaps most importantly - to local parishes and ecclesially divided families - that we embrace each other as pilgrims who share a common baptism in Jesus Christ,” said Richard Mouw of Fuller Theological Seminary.
“The current dialogue between members of the Reformed tradition and the Roman Catholic tradition is a conversation on what we believe about Baptism and how we celebrate this sacrament liturgically. Our discussions clarify where we are one and where we differ, so that we may find the road to closer unity in our common apostolic Christian faith,” commented Bishop Patrick Cooney of Gaylord, Mich.
Most of the conversation centered on a 50-page report on sacramentality in the two churches, called “Mutual Recognition.”
“Already signaled in ‘Lumen Gentium’ (1964), the validity of Christian baptism creates the necessary precondition for the possibility of ecumenism since it establishes an ecclesial reality of real, though imperfect, communion. Any diminishment of that unity puts the ecumenical movement toward fully visible communion at serious risk,” a press statement said.
Participants agreed to a trajectory through October 2007 to conclude work on baptism. In view of the request from the Vatican, plans were also set in motion to begin a study of the relationship of baptism to the Eucharist, and the role of both sacraments in shaping the churches and drawing them toward fuller communion.
The dialogue was established in 1965, and is currently sponsored by the U.S. bishops’ Committee for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs, the Reformed Church in America, the Christian Reformed Church, the Presbyterian Church USA, and the United Church of Christ. The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America sends an observer.
New Haven, Conn., Nov 28, 2006 (CNA) -
International Catholic lay fraternal organization, the Knights of Columbus, have begun their “spiritual pilgrimage,” with Pope Benedict XVI as he arrives in Turkey today. As previously reported, the Knights will pray for the Pope’s intentions as he makes his historic visit to the Muslim country.
Supeme Knight, Carl A. Anderson noted that, “Only a few Catholics can physically travel with the Holy Father to Turkey, but millions of us can be united with him in prayer during his pilgrimage for peace.”
“We will ask Our Lady of Fatima to intercede for the Pope during this journey,” Anderson continued. “Mary is regarded with special esteem by people of the Islamic faith, and this is especially true under her title Our Lady of Fatima, since Fatima was the name of the prophet Mohammed’s daughter.”
Knights, their families, and all Catholics are being asked to pray daily for the Pontiff during his journey, which begins today and concludes Friday, Dec. 1.
In addition, the Knights of Columbus will print and distribute cards with a special prayer written by the Order’s Supreme Chaplain, Bishop William E. Lori. Knights and others joining in the Spiritual Pilgrimage will say the prayer each day during the Pope’s trip.
The prayer asks that the Pope’s visit will bring about “deeper ties of understanding, cooperation, and peace among Roman Catholics, the Orthodox, and those who profess Islam.” And it asks that “Pope Benedict be kept safe from all harm as he prays, bears witness to the Gospel, and invites all peoples to a dialogue of faith, reason, and love.”
The full text of the prayer is available at www.kofc.org/pilgrimage.
Rome, Italy, Nov 28, 2006 (CNA) - A Hollywood movie about the birth of Jesus, “The Nativity Story,” made its world premiere on Sunday at the Vatican.
The premier was the first time a feature film has debuted at the Vatican. About 7,000 people attended the benefit screening of “The Nativity Story,” filling Paul VI Hall, reported The Associated Press. Proceeds from the event will go toward the construction of a school in Mughar, a village that is 25 miles from Nazareth.
Although Pope Benedict XVI due to his preparations for this week’s trip to Turkey, several Vatican officials were on hand for the debut.
Before the screening, Archbishop John Foley, who heads the Vatican's social communications office, praised what he called a dialogue between faith and culture.
"Cinema, a powerful means of communication, once again carries a universal message," he reportedly told the audience.
The 102-minute film, shot between Morocco and Italy, tells the story of Mary's pregnancy, the trip she and Joseph take to Bethlehem, where Jesus is born, the visit of the Magi and the escape into Egypt from the jealous wrath of King Herod.
The 16-year-old Australian actress Keisha Castle-Hughes, who plays Mary, did not attend the premiere. Shohreh Aghdashloo, who plays Elizabeth, the mother of John the Baptist, was present, as was Oscar Isaac, who portrays Joseph.
The Nativity Story opens in the United States and Canada on Dec. 1. It was produced by New Line Cinema, which made "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy.
Washington D.C., Nov 28, 2006 (CNA) - The House of Representatives will hold the first-ever vote next week on a measure that would inform women considering an abortion after 20 weeks gestation that their baby will feel intense pain as a result of the abortion, reported LifeNews.com.
The bill also requires abortion practitioners to offer the mother a chance to give the baby anesthesia beforehand.
Rep. Chris Smith, a pro-life New Jersey Republican, is the lead sponsor of the Unborn Child Pain Awareness Act (H.R. 6099), and 93 members of the House have signed on as co-sponsors.
The measure came about after the debate in Congress on the federal partial-birth abortion ban. Witnesses testified that unborn children past 20 weeks gestation feel excruciating pain during the course of an abortion.
The House will consider the bill under the "Suspension Calendar" which means the legislation needs a two-thirds vote in order to pass.
Whether or not the bill passes, consideration of the measure provides pro-life lawmakers an opportunity to launch a national discussion on the pain babies feel during abortions.
Dr. Kanwaljeet Anand of the University of Arkansas Medical Center has said an unborn child's ability to feel pain "will develop sometime during the second trimester and by the third trimester the pain system is completely functional.”
A British study, published in the Journal of Neuroscience by a team from University College London, came to the same conclusion.
San Salvador, El Salvador, Nov 28, 2006 (CNA) - Archbishop Fernando Saenz Lacalle of San Salvador called on Catholics this week to pray for “the holiness of priests and religious” in response to the scandal caused by the conviction of a Franciscan priest to 20 years in prison for the sexual abuse of a minor.
Archbishop Saenz said the case of Father Jose Daniel Rivas, 58, was cause for great sadness in the Church in El Salvador, especially because of, “the sacred character, in this case, of the offender, and we should pray much and ask the Lord our God to never let such a thing happen again.”
The archbishop called for greater respect for childhood and for morality in the country.
He clarified that the offending priest “is not incardinated in the archdiocese, he is a religious who was serving temporarily at the Parish of San Cristobal,” and he said the Franciscan Order was responsible for overseeing cases of sexual abuse by its members.
Rome, Italy, Nov 28, 2006 (CNA) - Central Asia's only Catholic seminary welcomed a dozen young men, aged 16 to 23, from various parishes in the Archdiocese of Astana for a three-day discernment weekend.
Mary, Mother of the Church Seminary hosted the young men, from Nov. 10 to 12. The goal of the exposure program, conducted twice a year, is to give prospective seminarians a better idea of priesthood and the preparation for it. This was the program’s 10th weekend.
Participants took part in joint prayers, masses, adoration and recollections. They also attended a theology class. They also heard stories about persecution of Catholics at the hands of the Soviet communists.
They visited the new cathedral that is being built in Karaganda and a new parish church, dedicated to Blessed Aleksey Zaritskiy, a martyr who died in a Soviet labor camp near Karaganda.
Fr. Andrzej Szensni, a priest from Karaganda, also told them about Fr. Vladislaw Bukovinski, who was in prison 13 years before dying with a rosary in his hand.
During the 1930s and 1940s, the Soviet government sent thousands of people to Kazakhstan and Siberia to work in labor camps if they were found guilty of following a religion or committing political crimes, or suspected of being disloyal to the regime.
The seminary currently has 18 seminarians. Five entered this year. Some of the current seminarians attribute their decision to enter the seminary to the exposure program.
Kazakhstan has about 250,000 Catholics, many of them ethnic Poles. Another 7,000 belong to the Oriental-rite Greek Catholic Church. Muslims account for about 60 percent of the country's population of more than 15 million, and another 30 percent are members of the Russian Orthodox Church.