Pope Benedict XVI left the Apostolic Nunciature in Ankara, Turkey this morning and traveled by plane to Ephesus, where he celebrated Mass at the “House of Mother Mary” with a group of Turkish Christians. The Pontiff spoke of “Christ, our peace,” and pleaded for peace in the world.
Amid strict security, to protect the Holy Father from threatening assassins, Pope Benedict returned to the themes of peace and religion, speaking not of Islam, but of Christianity.
Drawing from Paul’s letter to the Church in Ephesus, the Pope emphasized the motto of his trip to Turkey, "He, Christ, is our peace" (Eph 2:14).” “Inspired by the Holy Spirit,” Benedict said, “Paul tells us that Jesus Christ has not only brought us peace, but that he is our peace. And he justifies this statement by referring to the mystery of the Cross: by shedding ‘his blood,’ by offering in sacrifice ‘his flesh,’ Jesus destroyed hostility ‘in himself’ and created ‘in himself one new man in place of the two (Eph 2:14-16).’”
“The Apostle explains,” both to Jews and Greeks, the Pope said, that “in a truly unforeseen way, messianic peace has now come about in Christ’s own person and his saving mystery. He explains it by writing, during his imprisonment, to the Christian community which lived here, in Ephesus.”
In addition to its ancient importance, the city of Ephesus holds importance for the early Church. It was home to one of the earliest Christian communities, where St. Paul resided for three years, and St. John the Evangelist lived the last years of his life. Tradition holds that Mary the Mother of God traveled with St. John and spent the last years of her life on earth in Ephesus as well. In the year 431, an ecumenical council was held at Ephesus which proclaimed the divine motherhood of Mary. And since early times Christians have gathered at the Sanctuary of “Meryem Ana Evì,” the House of Mother Mary.
“The Virgin Mary, the Mother of Christ and of the Church,” the Pope continued, “is the Mother of that mystery of unity which Christ and the Church inseparably signify and build up, in the world and throughout history.” And Paul is aware of his mission to proclaim the “mystery” of the grace and peace which Christ brings, the Pope added. “This mystery is accomplished, in salvation history, in the Church, the new People in which, now that the old dividing wall has been broken down, Jews and pagans find themselves united. Like Christ himself, the Church is not only the instrument of unity, but also its efficacious sign.”
“Grace is the power that transforms man and the world; peace is the mature fruit of this transformation…Christ is grace, Christ is peace,” Pope Benedict said.
Peace in the Holy Land
This message of peace which St. Paul proclaims to Jews and Gentiles, “can also extend, by analogy, to the relationship between the peoples and civilizations present in the world,” the Pope continued. “Christ ‘came to proclaim peace’ (Eph 2:17), not only between Jews and non-Jews, but between all nations, since all have their origin in the same God, the one Creator and Lord of the universe.”
“Strengthened by God’s word, from here in Ephesus, a city blessed by the presence of Mary Most Holy – who we know is loved and venerated also by Muslims – let us lift up to the Lord a special prayer for peace between peoples,” the Holy Father implored.
“Let us implore peace and reconciliation, above all for those dwelling in the Land called ‘Holy’ and considered as such by Christians, Jews and Muslims alike: it is the land of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, destined to be the home of a people that would become a blessing for all the nations (cf. Gen 12:1-3). Peace for all of humanity!”
Peace among Christians in Turkey
“We all need this universal peace; and the Church is called to be not only the prophetic herald, but even more, the sign and instrument’ of this peace,” the Pope added turning to the need for ecumenical progress. “Against the backdrop of universal peace, the yearning for full communion and concord between all Christians becomes even more profound and intense. Present at today’s celebration are Catholic faithful of various rites, and this is a reason for joyful praise of God. These rites, when they converge in unity and common witness, are an expression of that marvelous variety which adorns the Bride of Christ.”
“Dear brothers and sisters,” the Pope said, addressing the “little flock” of Christians in Turkey, “in this visit I have wanted to convey my personal love and spiritual closeness, together with that of the universal Church, to the Christian community here in Turkey, a small minority which faces many challenges and difficulties daily.”
The Pope told those present in addition, “the faithful of Izmir, Mersin, Iskenderun and Antakia, and others from different parts of the world, as well as those who could not take part in this celebration but are spiritually united with us…With firm trust let us sing, together with Mary, a magnificat of praise and thanksgiving to God who has looked with favor upon the lowliness of his servant (cf. Lk 1:48).”
“Let us sing joyfully, even when we are tested by difficulties and dangers,” the Holy Father said mentioning Fr. Don Andrea Santoro, the Italian priest who was murdered in Turkey this year. The Pope noted that he was offering Mass for the Priest who was slaughtered by a 15 year-old Muslim, probably in the furor over caricatures of the prophet Mohammed, which appeared in European newspapers.
“In this Eucharistic celebration we praise the Lord for Mary’s divine motherhood, a mystery solemnly confessed and proclaimed in Ephesus at the Ecumenical Council of 431,” the Pope also said.
The Holy Father recalled the moment when Christ gave Mary to the Apostle John and to the Church, “We have listened to a passage from Saint John’s Gospel which invites us to contemplate the moment of the Redemption when Mary, united to her Son in the offering of his sacrifice, extended her motherhood to all men and women, and in particular to the disciples of Jesus.”
“Mary’s motherhood, which began with her fiat in Nazareth, is fulfilled at the foot of the Cross. Although it is true – as Saint Anselm says – that ‘from the moment of her fiat Mary began to carry all of us in her womb,’ the maternal vocation and mission of the Virgin towards those who believe in Christ actually began when Jesus said to her: ‘Woman, behold your son!’ (Jn 19:26). Looking down from the Cross at his Mother and the beloved disciple by her side, the dying Christ recognized the firstfruits of the family which he had come to form in the world, the beginning of the Church and the new humanity.”
Through the fulfillment of Christ’s mission on earth and the creation of the Church with Mary at its heart, “Mary’s divine motherhood and her ecclesial motherhood are thus inseparably united,” Pope Benedict concluded. “Mary teaches us that the source of our joy and our one sure support is Christ, and she repeats his words: ‘Do not be afraid’ (Mk 6:50), ‘I am with you’ (Mt 28:20). To the strength of his arm let us entrust ourselves (cf. Lk 1:51). Mary, Mother of the Church, accompany us always on our way! Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us!”
Following the celebration of the Mass the Holy Father traveled from Izmir to Istanbul where he will meet the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I.