The expectations of the Church

Benedict XVI to the new ambassador to the Holy See

“The Catholic Church in Turkey is waiting for civil juridical recognition. This would help her to enjoy full religious freedom and to make an even greater contribution to society”. This was recalled by Benedict XVI who on 7th January was handed the credentials by Kenan Gürsoy, Turkish ambassador. The new diplomat, aged 60, is professor of philosophy and the author of many articles and works, not only about philosophy but also about ethics and inter-religious and intercultural dialogue. 2010 will also be the 50th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Turkey and the Holy See, “one of the fruits of the papacy of John XXIII” who was apostolic legate to Istanbul, Turkey.A “bridge” country. “The Catholics in Turkey appreciate the freedom of worship that is guaranteed by the Constitution, and are pleased to be able to contribute to the well-being of their fellow citizens, especially through involvement in charitable activity and healthcare”, declared the Pontiff recalling the assistance provided by the “La Paix” and “Saint Georges” hospitals in Istanbul, expressing the hope the Turkish Government will continue to support them. Benedict XVI went on to praise “the numerous initiatives” taken by Turkey to promote peace and stability in the Middle East, a country that is “well placed to act as a ‘bridge’ between Islam and the West”. “As history has so often shown – said the Pope -, territorial disputes and ethnic rivalries can only be satisfactorily resolved when the legitimate aspirations of each party are duly taken into account, past injustices acknowledged and, when possible, repaired”. In his speech, the Pontiff also recalled his visit to Turkey in 2006 renewing his appreciation for the “warm welcome” he received and his “esteem” for Muslims. Then he went on to “reiterate the commitment of the Catholic Church to carry forward inter-religious dialogue in a spirit of mutual respect and friendship”. Satisfaction and hope. “Satisfaction and hope” have been expressed by the Turkish Catholic Church for the appointment of Kenan Gürsoy: “We know very well the new ambassador, his great openness to dialogue and his intellectual abilities”, says to SIR Europe the president of the Turkish Bishops Conference (Cet), mgr. Luigi Padovese who did not forget to mention “the important news” that “it is the first time that this position is taken by an intellectual, a university lecturer and not a career diplomat. I think this is symptomatic of a will of change”. In commenting Benedict XVI’s speech to the new ambassador, mgr. Padovese states they touched on “some quite hot issues”, such as “the legal status of the Catholic Church that is not even acknowledged as a minority. It’s a good thing that the Pope mentioned this need, which means acknowledging not just freedom of cult, but also a full religious freedom. Being able to have contacts with the authorities, finding ways to open a seminary, all these things deserve to be taken into account again. The concept of minority needs to be overcome, replaced by the concept of equal rights for every Turkish citizen, regardless of their faith”. Mgr. Padovese hopes that the appointment of Kenan Gürsoy may bring good news for the Church of Saint Paul in Tarsus, whose return to cult has been long awaited. “The new Turkish ambassador to the Holy See – explains the president of the Turkish Bishops – seriously wants to achieve a positive outcome for this issue”. In the meantime, a new fact of 2010 is that, according to mgr. Padovese, “right now, and this has been happening since last week, the Church of Saint Paul in Tarsus is no longer run by the museum. Now we are waiting to see who will be appointed to run it and the flows of groups and pilgrims who go there for their celebrations”.A bulwark against fundamentalism. “Today, Turkey has to take up the role she had during the Cold War when she was a stronghold against Communism. Today she is called to be a stronghold against Islamic fundamentalism and extremism”, said the Apostolic Nuncio to Turkey, Mgr. Antonio Lucibello, as he commented on Pope Benedict XVI’s speech. The Pope spoke of Turkey as a “bridge between Islam and the West” reaffirming the commitment of the Church to inter-religious dialogue “in a spirit of mutual respect and friendship”. “Turkey – explained the Nuncio to SIR Europe – is a big country with a great vocation to act as a bridge. During the Cold War, she was a Western ally against Communism as it is today against fundamentalism. Turkey is a strategic country which can play an important role in achieving stability in the Middle East”. Speaking about the new Turkish ambassador, Mgr. Lucibello said he was satisfied with the choice: “he is a qualified man, a well-known man of letters with a knowledge of many Christian and Catholic writers and thinkers. He will certainly do a great job. We hope that with him the Church of St. Paul in Tarsus may be given the dignity of a church. There are small steps forward, but we need time and patience”.

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