Monsignor Georges Marovitch (Turkey)
Last December the European Union authorized the start of negotiations with Turkey with a view to its possible entry into Europe. Turkey is the heir of a great empire with a rich civilization; for centuries its capital Istanbul (Constantinople) was among the most splendid of the European continent and gave rise to the meeting between various ethnic groups, cultures and religions, enabling them to live in peace together for many years. This vocation was also founded on the Koran where it says in sura (chapter) 5, 48: “If God would have wished to do so, he would have made of you a single Community, but he did not do so in order to test you in what he gave to you. Vie with each other, therefore, in good works”. It is worth recalling that in more recent times, in the period of the Cold War, Turkey, as a member of NATO, was the shield of Europe against atheist Communism. If admitted to the European Union, we are all convinced, Jews and Christians alike, that Turkey could be a bridge between West and the Islamic countries, a factor of peace and a source of material and spiritual enrichment for the whole of Europe.
By helping her to achieve the level of prosperity of the other European states, Turkey, a huge country rich in natural resources, could give hospitality and work to many and Turks themselves would no longer have a need to emigrate. They are hospitable people who love work; an example of this are the Turkish immigrants who work in Germany, Belgium, Holland, in the countries of Eastern Europe and in Central Asia where they have established thriving businesses and industries.
Turkey, though constitutionally a secular state, has a Moslem majority. But it has peacefully lived together with those of other religions and has preserved many of the values that have been lost in the West: great respect for the name of God (Turks never blaspheme), the family and work; a disinclination to become addicted to vices such as alcohol; a taste for modesty and decorum in television programmes; a sharing of moral values that it holds in common with Christianity; and tolerance for other religions.
It remains a fact, however, that at the present time, the legal situation of the non-Moslem communities still has problems, not so much for freedom of worship, but for the maintenance of real estate useful for the performance of religious and liturgical activities. It should also be noted that during the period of the fall of the Ottoman empire, some members of our communities collaborated with the enemies, and after the establishment of the Republic, as a reaction, restrictions were introduced (such as the non-recognition of their juridical personality, something that slowly caused the confiscation of properties; they are debarred from receiving legacies or economic benefits for the maintenance of their churches and for their charitable institutions). More recently, however, with Turkey’s bid to enter the European Union, new laws were promulgated that abolish these forms of discrimination, but their application is very slow due to bureaucratic obstacles of various kinds.
We are also convinced that the signing of a “modus vivendi” with the Holy See would resolve all the problems of the Catholic Church in Turkey. Lastly, it should be recalled that this country still preserves all the historic memories of the early centuries in the history of Christianity. Indeed, we might go so far as to say that the real roots of Europe are in Tarsus, Antioch, Ephesus and Nicaea, in Cappadocia; all of them places in which the Fathers of the early Church lived. Still today the house of Our Lady at Ephesus is a place of dialogue visited by large numbers of Turkish Muslims, almost more so than by Christians. Indeed, Moslems consider her, as we do, the purest and most holy Mother of humanity, and give the name of Mary (Meryem) to many of their daughters.
(Servizio Informazione Religiosa)
*Roman Catholic Apostolic Vicar in Istanbul