I continue to watch Pope Benedict’s trip to Turkey with excitement, interest, and amusement. It reveals so many things about the man himself, the policy of the Church which he is manifesting, and then the character of Islam and of the nation of Turkey.
Last night, I found myself cheering like a teenager at a pep-rally when reading one account of the whole subject of the papal visit. One reporter asked the Holy Father if he thought that the nation of Turkey could be helped by a closer relationship with Europe and European thought and culture. The Pope, who is an ardent lover of his native continent, answered, “That has already taken place. When the father of his country, Kemal Ataturk, founded the Turkish republic on the collapse of the Ottoman Empire after World War II, he wanted to get away from the concept of a Muslim government and an established religion in favor of a secular state. And where did he turn to find a model for his new constitution? FRANCE!” — France is a European nation which is predominantly Catholic although officially secular, and where, at that time, there were very few Muslims.
I was delighted by our Holy Father’s knowledge of his history so that he could speak of that — which most Turks probably didn’t know up until that time. I hope that the Pope’s words were reported in the Turkish press and news bulletins.
Let us continue to pray for the personal safety of our Holy Father as he continues his trip; today he goes to the city of Istanbul, once known as Constantinople, which is the home of the Patriarch who is the nominal head of all the Orthodox Christians throughout the world. That Patriarch, whose name is Bartholomew I, continues to live there since he retains the ancient title “Patriarch of Constantinople” despite the fact that the Muslim world swallowed up the city of Constantinople and indeed much of the Byzantine empire of which it was the head in 1453. There are very few Christians there now, most of whom are Orthodox. The Catholic community there is tiny in comparison with the entire population of Turkey, but is there nonetheless as a remnant of the great Catholic community before the schism of 1054, and then of the Orthodox Christian community since then. Thank you for seeking God’s truth. God bless you. Father Victor Brown, O.P.
Note: This message was composed some years ago.