Is Ankara aware of the Patriarch Bartholomew, Pope Francis summit?
“The meeting of the pope and the ecumenical patriarch in Jerusalem 50 years after the historic encounter of our ever-memorable predecessors, Paul VI and Athenagoras, should not be underestimated by anyone,” said Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew in an interview published last May in the National Catholic Reporter.
Obviously he is addressing a Catholic audience in that specific interview, but when I read that sentence I had a feeling as if he was addressing the Turkish audience too; as the historic meeting that will take place in Jerusalem next weekend is about to go unnoticed by the Turkish public.
Unfortunately; while Turkey aspires to be a regional leader with global aspirations, its news agenda does not permit discussion on important international issues. I had planned to write about this meeting last week, but the tragedy in Soma, where we lost more than 300 miners, did not allow me to do so.
Even if the Soma accident had not happened, I doubt whether there would have been any attention paid to Patriarch Bartholomew’s historic encounter with Pope Francis. Not only does Turkey not recognize Patriarch Bartholomew’s ecumenical title, many in Turkey believe he represents Greece.
There have been instances in which, while visiting a local mayor or governor, Patriarch Bartholomew would be greeted with Greek flags next to the Turkish ones in the room. Don’t get it wrong, this is actually done out of courtesy, which unfortunately comes as a result of ignorance, for which the Turkish state is responsible.
However, I would not be surprised if the meeting between Patriarch Bartholomew and Pope Francis starts with the latter offering his condolences for the miners who have died in Soma, as the former is a Turkish citizen and the Patriarchate is in Turkey. “I am an institution of the Turkish Republic,” Patriarch Bartholomew has said.
The Turkish state has never wanted to accept or highlight the importance of the Ecumenical Patriarch, who is first in honor among all Eastern Orthodox bishops.
The meeting of two of world’s religious leaders, representing millions of Catholic and Orthodox believers, is important in itself. But this occasion is equally important. To understand it, we need to go back in history to 1054, the year that marked the official division - known as the “Great Schism” - between the two Churches. The mutual excommunications by the Pope and the Patriarch in that year became a watershed in Church history. The excommunications were not lifted until 1965, when Pope Paul VI and Patriarch Athenagoras, following their historic meeting in Jerusalem in 1964, presided over simultaneous ceremonies that revoked the excommunication decrees.
Patriarch Bartholomew and Pope Francis will commemorate the 50th anniversary of that historic meeting. The idea came from Patriarch Bartholomew, who attended the Pope’s inauguration and thus became the first head of the Eastern Orthodox Church to attend a papal enthronement since the great schism. While there, he invited Francis to join him in Jerusalem.
This will be the first visit of Pope Francis to the Holy land. It will be his second journey outside of Italy as Pope. He will also visit Jordan and the West Bank, where he will celebrate Sunday Mass in Bethlehem. In Israel, he is also scheduled to meet Palestinian and Syrian refugees.
Wherever the Pope goes, he becomes the focus of attention of the international media. Patriarch Bartholomew has invited him to Turkey as well. It’s high time for the Turkish state to better understand the importance of the Patriarchate, also as a strategic asset.