Catholic World News News Feature
Turkey welcomes saints' relics; church-state relations warmer November 30, 2004
An ecumenical assembly, including civil authorities and many Catholic bishops gathered yesterday in St George's Orthodox cathedral in Istanbul to welcome the relics of St. Gregory Nazianzen and St. John Chrysostom, the Fides news service reports.
The relics were handed over to the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I in Rome on November 27, during a special ecumenical service in St. Peter's basilica. Buoyed by the enthusiasm generated by the Pope's gesture, large crowds attended the Divine Liturgy on November 30, marking the feast of St. Andrew, the patronal saint of the Patriarchate of Constantinople.
"This was an act of reconciliation among the churches which is bound to have positive effects on ecumenical relations in the future," Father George Marovich, spokesman for the Catholic bishops' conference of Turkey, told Fides. National media outlets gave ample coverage to the event, which caused joy and emotion among all the different Christians in Turkey.
Church-state relations are gradually improving in Turkey. Recently a Jesuit church was returned to that order, and entrusted to the Syrian Catholic community in Istanbul. Christians hope that the formation of joint commission of Catholics and government members will help improve relations Church-state even further and also to define the juridical status of the Catholic community. "Progress in these talks will depend indirectly on Turkey's drawing close to the European Union, a process which will foster recognition of the Catholic Church in this country," Father Marovich told Fides.
During a meeting with Premier Recep Tayyip Erdogan in July, the Catholic bishops of Turkey (Lain, Armenian, Chaldean and Syrian Catholic) had a chance to illustrate difficulties and problems encountered by Catholics in Turkey and also to make a request for official juridical status for the Catholic Church in Turkey. Turkey has a population of 66 million, of which 98 percent is Muslim. The Christians who make up 0.6 percent of the population are divided among the Orthodox and Catholic churches; the Catholics include members of the Latin, Armenian, Syrian, Chaldean, Byzantine, and Maronite rites.