The future lies in encounter

Fifty years of diplomatic relations

“A cooperation of conscience and trust to help build a better world”: that’s how the Turkish Ambassador to the Holy See, Kenan Gürsoy, defined the diplomatic relations between the Holy See and Turkey, on the 50th anniversary of their establishment. The anniversary was also the focal point of a study day promoted jointed by the St. Egidio Community and the Turkish Embassy on 1st December. As was underlined at the colloquium, these diplomatic relations were an achievement of the pontificate of John XXIII, who had long served as apostolic delegate in Istanbul. Mutual understanding and friendship. “Turkey – said the diplomat – sets great store on her relations with the Holy See, which are based on mutual understanding and the friendship that has grown between us over the years. Turkey and the Holy See form part of two worlds and yet it is from pluralism that unity derives”. According to Gürsoy, in fact, “the diplomatic relations between the Holy See and the Turkish Republic must become increasingly close. Turkey, he said, is enriched by her contact with Christianity, extending her cooperation to themes close to the heart of the Holy See such as family, ethics, life, bioethics, rights and the way in which Christianity can be enriched by the encounter with our world”. The diplomat then made an appeal “to our Christian and Jewish brothers” not to see in fundamentalism “only that of Muslims”, but rather to “seek, Muslims, Jews and Christians together, the true sense of their religious tradition and experience as the presupposition for cohabitation”. Civilization of cohabitation. “Turkey, her State, her civilization and her religions, and also the Catholic Church, are two decisive players who can steer the complex and conflict-ridden contemporary world towards the civilization of cohabitation”, said Andrea Riccardi, in his intervention in which he also traced the history of the partition between East and West, represented by two cities, Rome and Constantinople/Istanbul, on which the “new religious and political strength of Islam” is founded. “On the bipolarity between East and West – he explained – has been based the centuries-old conflict of civilization and religion, between Western Christianity and Islam, of which the Ottoman Empire was a powerful expression. The opposition between East and West, between Muslim and Christian worlds, is a reality and at the same time a recurrent myth that should not be underestimated since it represents one of the constants of history”: an archetype “on which much has been staked by the global terrorism of Al Qaeda, in its self-proclaimed struggle against the West which led it to strike at the new imperial city, New York. Al Qaeda aims to revive the armed bipolarity between the oppressive West and the Islamic Orient”. However, this bipolarity, according to Riccardi, “does not only have a history of warfare, but also one of crossroads, meetings, exchanges and superimpositions such as there were between the Ottoman Empire and the West, or between it and the Catholic Church: histories that are deeply interwoven also at the religious level”. “Meeting each other enables us to discover that we have far more in common than could ever be imagined”, said the founder of the St. Egidio Community. He pointed out the relations between “Vatican Rome and secular Ankara”. “The government of Ankara has built a new relationship with Islam and with religion in recent years, while at the same time it has realistically accepted the existence of a social and religious reality in the country that is far from homogeneous. It consists of the Christian and Jewish minorities, and also of a Turkish Islam that has plural expressions”. “Homogeneous worlds no longer exist – Riccardi concluded -; everywhere people are living together in their daily reality and in all the scenarios of the world. The civilization of the future will be that of cohabitation”.Pope John XXIII effect. Dialogue between different cultures and religions as “sign of the times” and impelled to be “far-sighted”: that, in the view of Valeria Martano, of the St. Egidio Community, is the value of the close rapport established between John XXIII and Turkey, where he filled the post of delegate and vicar apostolic from 1934 to 1944. “In the secular Turkey of Ataturk – she pointed out – Roncalli accepted the challenge of repositioning the Church in a world characterized by religious and cultural pluralism. Christianity seemed a world in decline; whole communities were being reduced to the point of disappearing entirely”. This gave rise to a commitment “to build a Turkish Catholicism with slow, patient but continuous penetration in the new environment” that was being created in Turkey at that time. “Roncalli’s spiritual compass was a genuine and cultivated fondness for the country, testified for example by the introduction of Turkish into the liturgy. In Turkey he was in contact with Christians of other confessions, with Turkish intellectuals, with the Jews of Istanbul; he also made visits to mosques. On the diplomatic level he proceeded with courtesy, and was careful to affirm the autonomy of Vatican diplomacy. Today, fifty years later, we can understand how much his intelligent diplomacy, based on patience and politeness, contributed to the meeting between these two worlds”. According to Rinaldo Marmara, spokesman of the Turkish Bishops’ Conference and historian of the local Catholic Church, Roncalli “succeeded in reconstructing an atmosphere of trust which remains an example for the role of the Church in difficult areas such as those of the Middle East. His memory in our country is still very much alive, so much so that Premier Erdogan continues to remember him as a friend of Turkey”.

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