03/02/2009, 00.00
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Churches of Europe: pilgrims in the Turkey of Saint Paul, to support Christian mission

by Geries Othman
Cardinals and bishops of the Eastern European Churches are following the journeys of Saint Paul: Antioch, Seleucia, Tarsus, Mopsuestia. Multiculturalism and Christian identity in the apostle's time and in our own.

Ankara (AsiaNews) - Three cardinals and eight bishops of the Episcopal Conferences of Southeast Europe tomorrow begin an international pilgrimage to honor the 2000th anniversary of the birth of St. Paul, and to meet the Christians of this land.

At the invitation of Bishop Luigi Padovese, apostolic vicar of Anatolia and president of the Episcopal Conference of Turkey, the bishops of Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Greece, Moldavia, Romania, Serbia, and Montenegro-Macedonia decided to organize the 9th meeting of the presidents of the Episcopal Conferences of their countries, remembering the Apostle of the Gentiles and his missionary work, in order to understand the present and future of their Churches. The event will also be attended by Cardinal Peter Erdo (president of the CCEE and primate of Hungary); Cardinal Josip Bozanic (vice president of the CCEE and archbishop of Zagreb); and Msgr. Aldo Giordano (the Holy See's permanent observer at the Council of Europe).

The work will begin in southern Turkey, in Iskenderun, the city where the Vicariate of Anatolia is based, with a greeting and a presentation of the situation of Christianity and the Catholic Church in Turkey by the host, Bishop Padovese. The series of encounters will conclude in Istanbul on Saturday, March 7, with the celebration of Mass presided over by Cardinal Peter Erdo at the cathedral of the Holy Spirit, where Angelo Roncalli preached as apostolic delegate to Turkey, and where - at the end of November 2006 - Benedict XVI met the small but lively Christian community of this booming metropolis and of all of Turkey.

At the center of the meetings is the theme of Christian identity in a multicultural and multiethnic world, beginning from a model presented by St. Paul, who had to preach in a context not unlike the one of today, thus contributing to the construction of the Christian identity. The participants will discuss the Christian identity today in their countries in southeast Europe. This reflection, which will be articulated in a number of sessions, will also include a pilgrimage to Antioch, where the disciples of Jesus were called "Christians" for the first time, and where Paul left on his missionary journeys; and to Seleucia, and the ruins of the ancient port where the Apostle of the Gentiles went for his first expedition in the spring of 43 A.D. The pilgrims will then continue on to Tarsus, Saul's birthplace, and to Mopsuestia, famous for its bishop Theodorus, an illustrious representative of the school of Antioch - together with Diodorus and Nestorius - in the fourth century, marked by the great dilemma for theologians concerning the twofold nature, human and divine, of Christ.

At the conclusion of the pilgrimage, which will be highly ecumenical in its tone, the presidents of the Episcopal Conferences will be received by His Holiness the ecumenical patriarch Bartholomew I, and will participate in the celebration of Orthodox vespers.

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