Saturday, November 25, 2006

Amico dei Turchi

A story's running today saying that, as he prepares to embark for his Turkish sojourn on Tuesday, the shadows of his predecessors will "haunt" Benedict XVI.

The word-use might be a bit far-fetched, but at the same time, it highlights the contributions to Turkey made by two of the Pope's recent predecessors -- both of whom, it should be noted, hailed from the diplomatic apparatus of the Secretariat of State.

On the last day of his pilgrimage, the pontiff will bless a two statues in Istanbul: one of Pope Benedict XV, erected after World War I "to honour his humanitarian work caring for Turkish troops wounded" in the conflict, and a new tribute to Bl John XXIII, who served in Turkey as apostolic delegate and head of the country's small Catholic community from 1935-44.

Forty-four years after his death, the man who became Papa Roncalli remains beloved the world over, but especially in Turkey, so much so that the postulator of the "Good Pope's" cause for canonization, Franciscan Fr Luca DeRosa, was given an extensive space in Wednesday's L'Osservatore Romano to speak to it.

"I love these Turks, in Jesus Christ," then-Archbishop Roncalli was quoted as saying in a letter to his ordinary, the bishop of Bergamo. "I love them because I believe them to be called to redemption."

(Psst -- don't tell anybody, but if you're looking for a theme for B16's trip, look no further than the latter line.)

According to DeRosa, Roncalli won the church credibility in the secular Muslim state by maintaining a positive, affectionate approach, one emphasized by the inscription he placed over the door of his nunciature "Pater et Pastor": "Father and Shepherd." (In an emblematic commentary on the state of ecumenism at the time, the prior greeting in the entry was "qui ex Patre Filoque procedit" -- a not-so-subtle jab at the Ecumenical Patriarchate.) Even before the reforms of the council he called, the then-Delegate offered Mass in Turkish; his first secretary in Istanbul, Msgr Angelo Dell'Acqua, later served as Pope John's Sostituto and was made a cardinal by Paul VI in 1967. In one of his letters on their time at the Delegation, Dell'Acqua said of his boss that, in temperament and balance, he was both "a father and a mother" to those who worked with him and the many who sought him out.

Following his 2000 beatification, a street near Roncalli's Istanbul residence was christened in the late pope's honor as "Amico dei Turchi" -- "Friend of the Turks." Such was the Vatican's standing in the eyes of the then-new republic that it was forbidden to set up its diplomatic outpost in the new capital of Ankara, but was exiled to Istanbul. With that situation since rectified, Benedict will be staying at the Ankara nunciature on the trip's first overnight.

For the liturgical triptik of the journey, the "presentation of the missal" given by papal MC Archbishop Piero Marini has been translated into English.