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Significance of Benedict XVI's Trip to Turkey

Presented by Archbishop Marini, Master of Papal Liturgical Celebrations

VATICAN CITY, NOV. 26, 2006 (Zenit) - Here is the Introduction to the missal that Benedict XVI will follow during his apostolic journey to Turkey, this coming Tuesday to Friday. It was prepared by Archbishop Piero Marini, master of the liturgical celebrations of the Supreme Pontiff.

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1. The Significance of the Apostolic Journey

In the footsteps of his predecessors Paul VI and John Paul II, His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI has chosen to honor the land of Turkey with one of the first Apostolic Journeys of his Pontificate. Turkey is spread over a vast region which, not without reason, has been called "the Holy Land of the Church". It was there that the Christian community, particularly in the great centers of Antioch and Ephesus, became conscious of her identity and consolidated her growth. There the Church opened out to the ancient world in a process of inculturation and adaptation which made her truly "catholic", open to all cultural expressions. Furthermore, this land was the starting-point for the first evangelization of both the Far East and the Slav peoples.

It was not by chance that most of the writings that make up the New Testament originated in this land or were addressed to its Christian communities. Two of those biblical authors, Paul of Tarsus and Luke of Antioch, are among the first witnesses to a Church that in the course of the centuries saw a rich flowering of outstanding figures who left their mark on the whole of Christianity. We need but recall the Cappadocian Fathers, and those of Antioch and the Syria, to say nothing of the ranks of martyrs and ascetics whom even today the liturgy offers us as models of Christian life.

The journey of the Bishop of Rome to Turkey takes place between two significant dates that recall those illustrious witnesses of the faith: the seventeenth centenary of the birth of Ephrem the Syrian (306) and the eighteenth centenary of the death of John Chrysostom (407).

Both are splendid rays of that "light from the East" which the Holy Father John Paul II, in his Apostolic Letter "Orientale Lumen" (1994), wished to reaffirm, so that the universal Church would treasure the rich witness, wisdom and spirituality of the Christian East and would look back with nostalgia to the first Christian millennium, when the Church lived in unity.

In a pluralistic age like our own, the manifold riches of the various religious traditions, past and present, found in the land of Turkey bear witness to the fact that pluralism in liturgical and spiritual expressions, and unity of faith in Christ the Lord, can be combined harmoniously. The Holy Father has rightly spoken of dialogue as a "polyphony of cultures".

This principle is true for the various Christian confessions, but it is also applicable to the dialogue between Christians and the followers of Islam. Shadows from the past cannot obscure the light radiating from the daily "dialogue of life", the "dialogue of charity" and the "dialogue of religious experiences" which has marked relations here between Christians and Muslims.

The journey of Pope Benedict XVI to Turkey is a part of this history, and must be understood in the light of that history. It is a pastoral journey, an ecumenical journey and a journey of dialogue with the Islamic world.

1. A pastoral journey

The Catholic Church in Turkey, with its various ritual expressions (Latin, Armenian Catholic, Syrian Catholic, Chaldean) is a small minority in a prevalently Sunni Muslim world. Like the Apostle Peter who, wrote a letter (1 Peter) from Rome to the Christian communities in diaspora in present-day Turkey, his Successor now speaks to those same communities, not only in words but also by his presence. Saint Peter urged the Christians there "to account for the hope that is in you" (1 Pet 3:15). In our own times, which have seen the rise and spread of forms of religious intolerance, Pope Benedict XVI, through the preaching of the word and the celebration of the sacraments, comes to confirm the Catholic community of Turkey in hope and in fidelity to Christ.

There are two celebrations of the Eucharist with the Catholic faithful of Turkey. The first takes place at the national Marian shrine of Meryen Aria Evi (the House of Mother Mary) in Ephesus, the city where the Council of 431 proclaimed her divine maternity, but also where -- according to a pious tradition -- Mary dwelt for some time with Saint John. The shrine is a point of encounter and prayer for Christians and Muslims, who acknowledge in Mary the ever-virgin mother of Jesus, the woman chosen by God for the good of humanity.

The second Eucharistic celebration takes place on 1 December in Istanbul, in the Cathedral Church of the Holy Spirit. Representatives of the various ...

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