04/13/2005, 00.00
TURKEY – VATICAN
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Turkey, an ecumenical and inter-religious gesture for John Paul II

by Mavi Zambak

Catholics, Orthodox and Muslims hang the deceased pope's image in their homes

Antioch (AsiaNews) – Dozens of citizens of Antioch have expressed their condolences for the passing of John Paul II by visiting the Catholic church in the city, showing their sorrow for the pope's death. "We are close in sorrow," is the now familiar refrain, coupled with the knowledge that now the "Holy Father" rests in the Light of God.

 Among those to come forward was the head of Jewish community, dressed in mourning; protestant pastors, American and Korean, Orthodox "abuna" (priests), alowiti religious as well as representatives of civil and diplomatic authorities, and a number of local politicians.

 The emotion, solidarity and participation of so many people were surprising. As the eight days of mourning – prescribed in oriental culture – passed, visits of condolence slowly waned. Local newspaper cuttings – full of photos and news about the death and funeral of the pope – were found in the book for mourners' signatures. Never has a pope attracted so much attention in Turkey: throughout the nation, flags were flying at half-mast.

 On 8 April, the Christian community came together for a time of prayer for the repose of the soul of the pope, to coincide with the funeral in St Peter's square. Together with the parish priest Fr Domenico Bertogli, and the little brother of Charles de Foucould, Frenchman Fr Francois, were three Greek Orthodox "abuna" (priests), as well as the Jewish rabbi and the head of the Jewish community in Antioch, the mufti of the city and protestant pastors. Among the authorities present were the prefect, the city mayor and the local university rector.

 There were also hundreds of people who did not hesitate to take leave from their jobs or from school, or to close shop in the middle of a working day, to testify to the fact that they took seriously the pope's dream: "Living in peace in a reconciled Mid-East."

 In a mosaic of different languages and choral invocations, God was called on in Turkish, Hebrew, Arabic, each in his way united in one voice, thanking God for the gift of John Paul II and invoking him, so that through his example, there may always be dialogue and respect for each and every human being, based on the essence of existence of each man.

 In memory of this meeting, historic for the city, several people of Antioch – Catholic, Orthodox, Muslims – hung in their homes the image of the pope, printed for the occasion.

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