Istanbul (AsiaNews) Another call for freedom for the Church which accompanies Muslims and an exhortation to Turkey's small Christian communities to live together in love. This was the final message of the Pope's visit, delivered this morning to around 2,000 people who participated in mass celebrated by Benedict XVI in Istanbul, his last engagement before leaving for Rome.
Young people stood in the small courtyard of the nineteenth-century church of the Holy Spirit, the Latin cathedral of Istanbul, cheering at the arrival of the Pope and Patriarch Bartholomew, chanting their names. On one wall, there was a poster with their images. There, upon his arrival, the Pope freed three white doves and then blessed a statue of John XXIII, the "Turkish Pope", as Pope Roncalli was described when he was elected, in memory of the 10 years he spent in this country where he is still remembered with respect and affection. The statue, intended for the Church of St Anthony, stood not far from that of Benedict XV, erected by the Turks in 1919 in memory of his appeals against the World War, with the inscription: "To the great pontiff of the global tragedy, benefactor of all peoples, regardless of nation or creed, as a sign of gratitude, the East."
The Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I, the Armenian Patriarch Mesrob II, and the Syro-Orthodox Metropolitan Fuluksinos Yusuf Cetin, attended the religious rite; all met Benedict XVI yesterday. The meeting with Bartholomew, who entered the church by the Pope's side and who participated in three celebrations with Benedict XVI in two days was the main reason for the voyage. This, however, did not stop public opinion from focusing above all on ties with Islam.
Benedict XVI dwelt upon these ties in the packed church. He said: "Your communities walk the humble path of daily companionship with those who do not share our faith, but who declare 'to hold the faith of Abraham, along with us adore the one and merciful God' (Lumen Gentium, n.16). You know well that the church wishes to impose nothing on anyone, and that she merely asks to live in freedom to reveal He who she cannot hide."
The celebration had an inter-ritual character, in that Catholic communities of different languages and rites took part. Monks with cowls and Metropolitans in their great mantles stood by the altar. For all of them, there was a papal exhortation to fraternity, which rounded up the homily: "Always be open to the spirit of Christ and hence be attentive to those who thirst for justice, peace, dignity, for consideration for themselves and for their brothers. Live among yourselves according to the word of the Lord: 'by these they will know you are my disciples, if you love one another'."