Just six months ago, the two leaders met in Jerusalem and signed a joint declaration marking half a century since the lifting of mutual excommunications and the beginning of a new era of improved relations between the Catholic and Orthodox Churches. So what are the expectations ahead of this latest encounter in the Patriarch’s headquarters at the Phanar in Istanbul? And how can the tiny Christian minority in Turkey help to promote better relations with the wider Muslim world?
To find answers to those questions, Philippa Hitchen spoke with Dominican Father Claudio Monge, director of a Centre for Cultural and Interreligious Dialogue in Istanbul….
Fr Claudio says Patriarch Bartholomew is a very important point of reference for the Christian world vis-à-vis the Turkish authorities and the Turkish state. At the same time, he notes that while the Orthodox leader has really fraternal relations with many people in the Catholic Church, that friendship is not always shared within the wider Greek-Orthodox community…..
While Fr Claudio believes the meeting in Turkey may not significantly change the relationship between the two local churches, he says there is a wider importance as both Catholics and Orthodox pray for the pan-Orthodox Synod that Bartholomew is trying to organize for 2016. “We are convinced that this is not only a very important goal for the Orthodox world, but for the whole of Christianity, in Europe and in the Middle East,” Fr Claudio says, since improved relationships between the different Orthodox churches may help them “ to give a new face, a new hope to the Christians in this area, that is majority Islamic, Islamic area.”
Regarding the role of interfaith dialogue in Turkey today, Fr Claudio says it’s not possible to talk about Christian –Muslim dialogue as a “dialogue of systems”. The Islamic world, he says, is very, diverse, very complex and real dialogue is always dialogue between believers who can meet together “in daily life for the common question of living together, but also for spiritual and even theological reasons.” Fr Claudio says he’s increasingly convinced that “real believers are concerned of the importance to be together as believers, witnesses of a new hope in a world that suffers a lot, a world that is characterized by violence, and where human life and dignity are very often forgotten.” It is a huge task, he continues, to build bridges between believers and although religion may be instrumentalized by a populist political vision, more and more people are against such exploitation, preferring to see religion as “ a resource to build a new relationships between countries and people.”
Asked if he believes the Pope’s words can have any impact on the political situation in the region, Fr Claudio says: “I think so…… I am more and more convinced that for example as Christian and Muslims, we define God as creator. And it’s more and more difficult to accept, among real believers, that a creator can destroy and can let lives be destroyed in such a way….. The challenge, he says, is how to translate and give shape at political level to this “ very deep feeling” but he says more and more people are saying--- “Not in my name”—the famous hashtag that many Muslim people all over the world started a few weeks ago speaking for example about violence and so on..”