The second stage of the apostolic voyage of Benedict XVI to Turkey. He met the small Catholic community near Mary's House, venerated by both Christians and Muslims. And he recalled Don Andrea Santoro. By our special correspondent.
Ephesus (AsiaNews) Peace for the Holy Land and for all of humanity. This was the prayer made by Benedict XVI in the House of Mary, a small stone building among the woods above Ephesus. Tradition has it that this is where the Mother of Jesus spent her last years on earth. On the second day of his trip to Turkey, the Pope, having left behind Ankara and the more "political" part of his voyage, went up to this tiny shrine to point to Mary as the way to follow to find peace. He also indicated the "Mother of the Church" as the comfort of the small Catholic community, which faces a difficult life and is still wounded by the murder of Don Andrea Santoro, whose "witness" was recalled by Benedict XVI.
A few hundred people were gathered before the small wooden altar, surrounded by yellow flowers, where the Pope celebrated Mass. Close by, a small two-roomed house in stone, on top of the Hill of the Nightingale, the Bulbul Dag, over Selcuk, the city encompassing the ruins of Ephesus, in the midst of woods that still bear the marks of a fire that broke out in August and destroyed everything around, stopping practically just outside the doors of the house. People hailed that as a miracle. This is the House of Mary, Meryem Ana Evi, which Benedict XVI visited today in Turkey, as Paul VI and John Paul II did before him. According to tradition, the Mother of Jesus was brought here by John and spent the final years of her life. It is an ancient tradition another tells that Mary left this place and returned to Jerusalem but only recently rediscovered. It was discovered, or rediscovered, in 1891, in the wake of the visions of Anna Katharina Emmerick, a German mystic of the XIX century who was dear to John Paul II. Since then, it has become a place of pilgrimage for nearly one million people per year. Christians come but so do Muslims, considering that the Mother of Jesus is the most frequently mentioned woman in the Koran.
The secular Turkish state made this place officially a museum but allows people to pray and to hold celebrations there. A house for pilgrims is situated nearby.
The statue of Mary in the house is without hands. When it was found, after the 1922 war, it was like this and this is how it remained.
To reach this place, the pope flew from Ankara to Izmir, ancient Smyrna, and then traveled 50km by car to the hill. Along the road that passed cultivated fields and orchards, small groups of curious onlookers stared at the cavalcade. One woman waved from a window, probably the only one to do so. A young boy held up a hand-written greeting sign. Perhaps he was the only one too.
Benedict XVI celebrated mass and quoted St Paul when he said: "Christ 'has made both groups into one' (Eph. 2:14): these words properly refer to the relationship between Jews and Gentiles in the mystery of eternal salvation, yet they can also extend, by analogy, to the relationship between the peoples and civilizations present in the world. Christ 'came to proclaim peace' (Eph 2:17), not only between Jews and non-Jews, but between all nations, since all have their origin in the same God, the one Creator and Lord of the universe. Strengthened by God's word, from here in Ephesus, a city blessed by the presence of Mary Most Holy who we know is loved and venerated also by Muslims let us lift up to the Lord a special prayer for peace between peoples. From this edge of the Anatolian peninsula, a natural bridge between continents, let us implore peace and reconciliation, above all for those dwelling in the Land called "Holy" and considered as such by Christians, Jews and Muslims alike: it is the land of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, destined to be the home of a people that would become a blessing for all the nations. Peace for all of humanity! May Isaiah's prophecy soon be fulfilled: 'They shall beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more' (Is 2:4). We all need this universal peace; and the Church is called to be not only the prophetic herald, but even more, the 'sign and instrument' of this peace. Against the backdrop of universal peace, the yearning for full communion and concord between all Christians becomes even more profound and intense."
Benedict XVI recalled that two popes had already come before this house, as did the future John XXIII who "left to the Church and the world the legacy of his Christian optimism, rooted in deep faith and constant union with God." The "good Pope" was especially attached to this place: when he was elected to the papacy, he wanted a candle lit in the shrine. It would remain lit throughout the Council and when he was on the deathbed.
Today, Benedict XVI recalled his example and turned once again to the Christian community that he had already talked about yesterday, touching upon religious freedom. He said: "In this visit I have wanted to convey my personal love and spiritual closeness, together with that of the universal Church, to the Christian community here in Turkey, a small minority which faces many challenges and difficulties daily. With firm trust let us sing, together with Mary, a 'magnificat' of praise and thanksgiving to God who has looked with favour upon the lowliness of his servant. Let us sing joyfully, even when we are tested by difficulties and dangers, as we have learned from the fine witness given by the Roman priest Don Andrea Santoro, whom I am pleased to recall in this celebration."
The mass was the first celebrated in public by Benedict XVI during his trip to Turkey. From Ephesus, the pope flies to Istanbul this afternoon, where he will hold the first meeting with the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, Bartholomew I, which is the main reason for the papal visit.