November 29, 2006
Small Christian Communities
(Photo from PRF)
John Allen reports:
On a beautiful fall afternoon on a Turkish hillside, Pope Benedict XVI, Supreme Pontiff of the 1.1 billion-strong Roman Catholic Church, metamorphasized into a simple country pastor, celebrating an outdoor Mass for no more than 300 pilgrims – perhaps half Germans who belong to the nearby German-language parish of St. Nicholas.
It was the smallest crowd in recent memory for a papal Mass, though the turnout was mostly due to the remote location and the tiny size of Turkey’s Christian community. The event had an intimate feel, with the assembly physically closer to the pope than is often the case. The bank of concelebrating priests, bishops and cardinals almost seemed equal to the size of the congregation.
In a fitting pastoral touch, Benedict XVI spoke the opening collect of the Mass in Turkish, drawing appreciative nods from the assembly.
Predictably, the pope’s message centered on Mary. The Sanctuary of Meryem Ana Evì (the “House of Mary”) was founded by the Lazarist Fathers in the 19th century, based on the visions of the German mystic Anna Katherine Emmerick, who identified this spot as the place where Mary died.
Though even the official Vatican Radio trip book notes that there’s no archaeological evidence to support the claim, the sanctuary nevertheless boasts a unique distinction, in that it’s perhaps the only Marian shrine on earth which draws as many Muslim pilgrims as Christians. Inside are votive reliefs with quotations from seven passages of the Qu’ran praising Mary.
The Pope's homily:
In today’s liturgy we have repeated, as the refrain of the Responsorial Psalm, the song of praise proclaimed by the Virgin of Nazareth on meeting her elderly kinswoman Elizabeth (cf. Lk 1:39). Our hearts too were consoled by the words of the Psalmist: “steadfast love and faithfulness will meet, righteousness and peace will kiss” (Ps 85:10). Dear brothers and sisters, 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. With firm trust let us sing, together with Mary, a magnificat of praise and thanksgiving to God who has looked with favour upon the lowliness of his servant (cf. Lk 1:48). Let us sing joyfully, even when we are tested by difficulties and dangers, as we have learned from the fine witness given by the Roman priest Don Andrea Santoro, whom I am pleased to recall in this celebration. 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). Mary, Mother of the Church, accompany us always on our way! Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us! Aziz Meryem Mesih’in Annesi bizim için Dua et. Amen.