Saturday, December 2, 2006

Interesting Experience of Turkish Journalist with the Pope

From The Journal of Turkish Weekly by Selma SEVKLI:

In time of Islamophobia, “clash of civilizations” and urgent need for dialogue after all, Pope’s visit to Turkey was critical both for Turkey and the rest of the world. Although I rose quite prejudice against Pope Benedict XVI after his speech at Regensburg University in Germany, I still wanted to see him and think about my opinions one more time.

As I worked for intercultural dialogue activities last year, I got to know many officials from religious minority communities. Therefore, I had the chance to attend the ceremony at Greek Orthodox Patriarchate on 29 November 2006. From beginning to the end, it was a lifetime experience for me.

We left Harbiye around 5.30 pm to go to the Patriarchate and realized that all the roads were closed. The police officers suggested us to take a different route which would make us delay even more. First their explanation was that the roads were closed for the Pope, we explained: “We are going to attend his ceremony” Surprisingly, showing our invitation letter was more than enough to open all the closed roads. We could have easily got the answer “Who cares, everybody is going somewhere important” All police officers I saw that night were extra careful and polite. Let me offer my thanks one more time as they completed their duty just perfectly.

The security was very tight around the patriarchate, we had to park 400 meters away, wait in lines, got searched. All these procedure got some of the people frustrated, for me just made the whole event more exciting. When we arrived in the yard, I saw 20 priests in line, with a long red carpet in front of them. There was a big screen monitor screening inside the church, welcoming signs on the walls and many people from different parts of the world. After waiting about 30 minutes Patriarch Bartholomew came in, welcomed everybody and soon after the Pope walked in. Bells ringed, cameras started shooting and the couple went into the church. Some rituals took place such as kissing the Testament, greeting the priests and the unique mass started. I walked in different levels of the church and looked at excited people, took pictures and videos. When the ceremony ended, most of the people left the patriarchate, but some started waiting in front of another building in the yard. I was told that there was another ceremony upstairs for priests only, closed to press and public. We chatted and waited outside the building, then famous Turkish journalist Leyla Umar and Patriarch Bartholomew’s lawyer Kezban Hatemi insisted to the officials about going in and meeting the Pope. As they are known for their close relationship to the Patriarch, their request was accepted and eight of us got the chance to get in.

The scene in the room was quite interesting. Priests were kissing the Pope and getting some holy gifts that I couldn’t exactly understand what. During that time, I was recording and just standing in front of the famous couple of the night. Then they started walking and the Pope got closer to me. I got confused about what to do, just looked at him and he gave his hand to me. I thought it would be disrespectful just to shake his hand as everybody was kissing, so I did the same with only one tiny different detail: After kissing his hand, I put it on my forehead as practiced in Turkish tradition. He smiled and I couldn’t say anything, but took my camera out and took another shot from a close distance. Then I had this weird feeling to describe as he left the room. I don’t know if he blessed or cursed, but it was a lifetime experience.

I left the Patriarchate in peace. I don’t know if the Pope is sincere about dialogue but to me it was de facto apologize about his statements while considered his whole trip. People were afraid about him praying in St. Sophia, he didn’t. Instead, he prayed towards Kaba in Blue Mosque. He tried to talk in Turkish, met many Turkish officials (even though his primary reason to visit Patriarch Bartholomoew), and in the end he said that he left his heart in turkey.

I believe that it is hard to change mentalities but reasonable to switch strategies. But it would be unfair to judge the Pope at the moment. We will see and learn through time what has changed in Vatican and if sincere dialogue is possible.