Istanbul (AsiaNews) When representatives of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople and the Vatican delegation headed by Card Walter Kasper, president of the Pontifical Council for Christian Unity, met yesterday in Istanbul on the Feast Day of St Andrew, they began the discussion on how to reactivate the Joint International Commission for Theological Dialogue Between the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church. They also began talks over the imminent restart of the Commission's Joint Coordination Committee.
Yesterday the Vatican delegation took part with a group of Catholics to the moving and highly attended 'divine liturgy' celebrated in the patriarchal church of St George in Fanar, officiated by Patriarch Bartholomew I himself.
Notwithstanding the disappointment due to Pope Benedict XVI's absence, the presence of the Vatican delegation and Catholic faithful showed how the ties between Catholics and Orthodox are getting stronger.
The activities to consolidate ecumenical dialogue are however taking place in the midst of an ongoing controversy concerning both the Patriarch and the Pope.
In today's edition, Turkish newspaper Hurriyet used the occasion to sow confusion about the current pope. In big letters, it wrote that "only six months after the death of John Paul II, Benedict XVI wants to prevent Catholics from marrying Muslims".
Similarly, on its front page Milliyet wrote: "We shall not be a second Vatican". The statement was in relation to a storm in Turkish mass media about the possibility that Greek-Orthodox Patriarch Bartholomew I as 'ecumenical patriarch' might want to set up an Eastern Vatican state, a Christian enclave, a new Byzantium within Istanbul.
But not everyone is playing by that tune. Writing about Benedict XVI's absence, Hurriyet also quotes an anonymous European diplomat who reportedly said: "Erdogan often blames the European Union for trying to keep Turkey out because it is a Christian club. But if you look closely, Turkey behaves like a Muslim club".
Amused, His Beatitude Bartholomew I swept aside the accusations. In an interview with Milliyet, he said: "There are only 3,000 Greeks left here. Do you seriously think that we are going to take over Istanbul and set up our own Vatican? Don't make me laugh."
On a more serious note, the Patriarch said that even if the Turkish state offered him such an optioni.e. creating a state within a statehe would not accept it.
What he wanted, he said, was for people to stop heap prejudice on top of ignorance. They should study history, become informed, read the treaties signed in the past (first of all the Lausanne Treaty that is on everybody's lips these days). Thus, they will be able to understand the situation of the Church today in Turkey and what its rightful 'demands' are, demands which have hitherto not be implemented or unjustly disregarded.
For starters, a solution should be found to the question of the Ecumenical Patriarchate Clergy Training Centre, which was arbitrarily shut down in violation of the 1971 treaty. But a solution does not seem forthcoming.
"In the garden of our theology school, on Heybeli Island, there is bust of Atatürk with one of his famous quotes: 'Knowledge is the true path in life'. But our school was shut down," the disappointed Patriarch said. "Where are we supposed to provide proper training so that our theologians can be true, just and honest men of the cloth?"
The Greek-Orthodox Church only wants its rights upheld and protected on the basis of European and international law so that it can devote itself to the good of its own community and, through its actions, humanity as a whole. (MZ)