(AsiaNews) - For three days, Turkey was in the world's spotlight, all eyes were
on the country because of the Argentine pope's visit, zooming on it and its
involvement in Francis' apostolic trip: national and international TV networks,
radio, and newspapers followed the pope's every movement, meeting and speech.
now returned and everything seems to have resumed its normal course. Nothing seems
to have changed. However, the image they had of this pontiff and his new vision
of "authority" found confirmation and validation.
that an authoritative figure could also be a regular guy left a major
impression. Coming across as someone who refused the privileges of his social
status in order to show his superiority, he did not stand behind divisive protective
barriers and security perimeters. Instead, everyone felt his closeness.
exactly what Christians and non-Christians saw, namely his capacity to become
close, reach out and meet others, as they are, without fences. Indeed, what
defined his trip- according to comments heard in the streets, on public
transport and in homes - was his determination to "become close" to
The trip that
led the pope from Ankara to Istanbul, addressing Muslims in the first leg, and the
Catholic Church and its sister Orthodox Churches in the second, was marked by a
single feature, namely a sense of closeness that strengthened the confidence
and good will toward this man of God.
out, in the sign of peace and respect, approaching first, he brought everyone a
bit closer: Catholics to the Orthodox and the Armenians; Christians to Muslims;
Turks to foreigners.
violence and intolerance, his outstretched hand was confidently open to shake that
of Turkey's civil authorities, that of Islamic leaders, that of his brother
Bartholomew I, to whom he asked for a blessing bowing his head, that of the many
Christians who wanted to touch him, kiss him, or even just see him, and that of
refugees from Syria and Iraq.
note of his silent prayer of worship in the Blue Mosque. They did the same when
he bowed to Bartholomew, requested his blessing and prayed with him. "Behind
the scenes", his gestures were even more remarked, as was his ability to
find time out of his already busy schedule to be close to ordinary people,
those from the edges of existence.
at the end of a day full of meetings with Turkey's top political and religious leaders,
he met with a small group of Christians, as invisible in the bureaucratic heart
of the Turkish Republic as a needle in the haystack - and fellow Jesuits, to
exchange a few words of friendship, solidarity and brotherhood in a relaxed
he was greeted by about 50 representatives of local Catholic (Latin, Armenian,
Syriac and Chaldean) communities, at the Apostolic Nunciature, where Mgr Roncalli
lived and worked during his stay in Constantinople between 1935 and 1944.
Cathedral of the Holy Spirit, on the last leg of his trip, Pope Francis met with
about a hundred young refugees who currently being helped by the Salesian
Oratory of the Sublime Porte.
A day earlier,
Francis expressed his appreciation to the Turkish government and recognised its
efforts towards refugees, many of whom from conflict zones. On that occasion,
he issued a message of peace and spoke about the war and the violence that have
caused bloodshed for too many years in the Middle East.
He did not
however limit himself to mere declarations. Instead, he showed his closeness to
those forced to leave their land, house, everything, because of the heinous
madness of fanaticism and fundamentalism.
greatly desired to meet with you, youth from Turkey, Syria, Iraq and other
countries of the Middle East and Africa," said the pontiff, who was eager to
meet these young people. "You represent hundreds of your peers, many of whom
are exiles and refugees who are helped every day by the Salesians. I wish to
assure you that I share your sufferings; I hope my visit, by the grace of God,
may offer you some consolation in your difficult situation. Yours is the sad
consequence of brutal conflicts and war, which are always evils and which never
solve problems. Rather, they only create new ones.
"Refugees, such as yourselves," he went on to say, "often
find themselves deprived, sometimes for long periods, of basic needs such as a
dignified home, healthcare, education and work. They have had to abandon not
only their material possessions, but above all their freedom, closeness to
family, their homeland and cultural traditions. The degrading conditions in
which so many refugees are forced to live are intolerable! For this reason, we
must do everything possible to eradicate the causes of this situation. I appeal
for greater international cooperation to resolve the conflicts that are causing
bloodshed in your homelands, to counter the other causes which are driving
people to leave their home countries, and to improve conditions so that people
may remain or return home. I encourage all who are working generously and
steadfastly for justice and peace not to lose heart. I ask political leaders to
remember always that the great majority of their people long for peace, even if
at times they lack the strength and voice to demand it."
"Dear young people, do not be discouraged," he added. "With the help of
God, continue to hope in a better future, despite the difficulties and
obstacles which you are currently facing. The Catholic Church is with you,
including through the invaluable work of the Salesians. The Church, in addition
to other forms of help, also offers you the opportunity to see to your
education and training. Remember always that God does not forget any of his
children, and that those who are the smallest and who suffer the most are
closest to the Father's heart.
leaving for Rome, the pope paid a visit to Mesrob II Mutafyan, the Armenian
Patriarch of Constantinople who has been seriously ill for several years and is
currently staying at Istanbul's St Saviour Armenian Hospital. The Holy Father prayed
for him during Mass in Istanbul Cathedral.
pitfalls of criticism and complaint, Francis' humility towards those who
consider themselves the great of the earth, and his tenderness and closeness to
the humble, weak and forgotten, have moved ordinary Turks, Christian and Muslim.
They have bravely shown the way towards brotherhood, effective dialogue,
harmony and peace. Not as a strategy to score ratings, but as the
implementation of the Gospel's logic. The Turks saw this.
A strong and
self-confident man, one who knows how to impose himself and keep his distance,
denies fragility and closeness, divides humans, and poisons the world. In a
world where everyone, but especially the powerful, build walls for security and
defence, perched behind barriers, Francis has torn down barriers, biases and clichés,
showing through his choices and actions who can really talk the talk without
losing his identity, daring to go beyond himself and leave his world to give others
a chance to be a good neighbour.
bridges that the pontiff built during his visit to Turkey is his gift. By getting
personally involved, he neither showed nor caused fear. Instead, he was approachable
and created unity. By bearing witness to dialogue, he showed that communion is
possible for everyone and that peace could be close at hand.