10/12/2011, 00.00
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Book remembers Roncalli in Istanbul and his friendship for Turkey

by Mavi Zambak
‘Istanbul incontro of due mondi’ is the title of the trilingual (Italian, Turkish and French) book, written by Rinaldo Marmara. It stresses the future good pope’s role as a bridge between cultures and religions during his wartime years as apostolic delegate.
Istanbul (AsiaNews) – Istanbul incontro of due mondi (Istanbul, a meeting of two worlds) is the title of a book by Rinaldo Marmara, spokesman of the Bishop’s Conference of Turkey, dedicated to then Mgr Angelo Roncalli’s time in Turkey between 1935 and 1944. Its purpose is to commemorate his stay in this city and celebrate the friendly relations the future John XIIII developed as apostolic delegate, which he eventually turned into formal diplomatic relations. The book was presented during a cocktail held at Şişli, an Istanbul district where Mgr Roncalli once lived. His old residence is today the seat of the nunciature. The title points to Roncalli’s role as a bridge between two worlds, cultures and religions, which reflects the character of the city itself. Rinaldo Marmara is the official historian of the Vicariate of Istanbul as well as the director of its Archives.

During the ten years the future pope spent in Istanbul as apostolic delegate, he established friendly relations with Turkish government circles, which he consolidated under his pontificate. Following a visit by Turkish President Celal Bayar on 11 June 1959 to the newly elected Pope John XXIII, the Vatican and Turkey established diplomatic relations on 21 January 1961 when the first nuncio, Mgr Francesco Lardone, arrived in Ankara.

“Mgr Roncalli,” Marmara said, “knew that he could play no representative role, that he could only pursue his spiritual and pastoral mission. Nevertheless, he made his presence felt whenever he could and was thus able to express his respect and gratitude to civil authorities. This way, he earned the genuine admiration of top officials in the Foreign Ministry.”

Roncalli did not develop such friendship for its own sake but expressed his desire to fulfil the principle of universal brotherhood espoused by Jesus with the humility and discretion that characterised his whole life.

On Monday, the “friends of the Turks”, as John XXIII was affectionately called in Istanbul and elsewhere, was able to bring together on the shores of the Bosporus various political, diplomatic and religious figures.

“During his ten-year stay, a man of faith and a diplomat like Angelo Roncalli was able to develop important relations with all the parties involved in the world war,” the Consul General of Italy Gianluca Alberini said. “He also worked ceaselessly on behalf of refugees and the persecuted, and maintained a strong connection with the local Italian community as shown by his regular visits to prisons, schools and the Società Artigiana, a local Italian charity.”

He did this whilst showing respect for Turkish society. In fact, he became aware of the importance of studying Turkish and using it in his apostolate in order to fit in the host society, communicate with its members and understand the way of thinking and the soul of the people among whom he lived. With this spirit and with care and perseverance, he studied Turkish and had prayers translated in the language.

The words he uttered on 18 May 1944 found an echo during the book launch. “Jesus,” Roncalli said on that occasion, “came to break down barriers. He died to proclaim universal brotherhood; this central point of His teaching is charity, that is, the love that binds all human beings to Him as the elder brother and binds us all with Him to the Father. I know right away that difficulties can emerge locally, which may go against the free development of the soul of each faithful in communicating the truth and grace of his brothers. But you know very well that there are many, countless relations and contacts that provide possibilities to transmit the divine message.”

Şişli mayor, who is behind the initiative, said that all this “provides a better lesson against those who believe in the clash of civilisations, and helps us hope that respect and friendship may inspire people to accept various religious beliefs and cultures with great tolerance and in peaceful coexistence”.

The Apostolic Vicar to Istanbul Mgr Luis Pelatre, the Patriarchal Vicar of the Syro-Catholics of Turkey Mgr Yusuf Sag, the Vicar of Bergamo Mgr Maurizio Gervasoni and Caritas Director for Bergamo Fr Claudio Visconti were present at the event. There were also many priests, nuns and Christians form different denominations as well as Turkish and foreign dignitaries and representatives of various lay and Muslim associations and institutions.

The book, available in three languages (Italian, Turkish and French), is an important study. It provides an enjoyable outline to the significant and complex activities of those years. Mgr Roncalli’s own voice can be heard thanks to the many quotes from his writings, now held by the Secretariat of State and the Congregation for Eastern Churches, as well as his copious letters, his Journal of a Soul and diary.

This book, which the Institute of Political Studies St Pius V will present again on 21 November in Rome, is meant to be a seedling, which, it is hoped, will “generate brotherhood, the basis of peace, something that today’s world urgently needs.”
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