On November 29, 2014 during his stay in Istanbul, Pope Francis asked the Great Mufti to pray with him and the Orthodox Patriarch to bless him.
From La Porte Latine (December 6, 2014), we offer this commentary about some unprecedented ecumenical acts that occurred during Pope Francis' Turkey visit.
Istanbul: Francis asks the Great Mufti to pray with him and the Patriarch to bless him
During his recent trip to Turkey, Francis removed his shoes in Istanbul’s Blue Mosque, asked for the Koran to be read and explained by the Great Mufti, offered to pray with him, then both turned towards Mecca and publicly prayed for a long period of time.
Pope Francis related:
I came to Turkey as a pilgrim, not as a tourist (…) When I went to the mosque, I could not say: 'No, now I am a tourist'. No, everything was religious. And I saw this wonder: the mufti explained to me many things, with great gentleness, including the Koran, where Mary and St. John the Baptist are mentioned… He explained to me everything. I then felt the need to pray, and I said: 'Could I pray a bit?' 'Yes, yes', he said. And I prayed: for Turkey, for peace, for the mufti… for everyone… and for myself, who need it much. I truly prayed. And I said: 'Lord, let us stop the war.' It was a moment of intense prayer.”(1)
Jean-Marie Guenois of Le Figaro reports, almost disconcerted, in an article(2) entitled “Pope Francis dares to pray in the Blue Mosque of Istanbul”:
The pope, who very openly crossed his hands, inclined his head and firmly closed his eyes, obviously prayed for two to three minutes. And to make clear that he prayed, he turned in the direction of the mihrab, a niche marked by two columns, which indicates the qibla, the direction of the ka' ba of Mecca.”
And Mr. Guenois concluded his article by these words:
This visit to the mosque, where no speech was foreseen, was to be one of the strong moments of his three-day trip in Turkey. It will remain as a strong gesture of Pope Francis. Because there he dared to do what none of his predecessors ever did: to pray openly in a mosque beside a Moslem dignitary.”
In its comment of the facts, DICI writes, in its issue no. 306 of December 5, 2014:
Sincerity is one thing, truth is another. The pope prayed for Turkey, peace, the mufti, himself… but to whom was he praying in that mosque facing the mihrab, which indicates the qibla, the direction of the ka’ba in Mecca? To Jesus, whose divinity Muslims deny? To the Trinity, which the Muslims reject absolutely? Of course, in 'the spirit of Assisi', some will pretend that the pope and the mufti were not praying together, that they were together in the Blue Mosque to pray…. But what does Asia Bibi, sentenced to death in Pakistan for his faith, think about that? And what are we going to say to the three children of Shazad and Shama, the Catholic Pakistani couple who were burned alive in a brick oven because they were hated Christians?”(3)
As there was the risk of the explosion of a new scandal against the Faith, Fr. Federico Lombardi, the Vatican’s spokesman, quickly tried to avoid a backfire by declaring that “it was, in fact, a silent adoration.”
A vain and useless attempt, because almost at once, in lyrical and admiring words, Sebastien Maillard, journalist of La Croix, teaches us that:
On Saturday, November 29, at the seat of the Orthodox Patriarchate in Istanbul, in a spontaneous gesture, Pope Francis inclined himself so that the Patriarch Bartholomew could bless him, as well as the Church of Rome.[...] Immediately after, Pope Francis gave a friendly slap on the back to the patriarch. He also bowed to kiss his hand, as he had done at the time of their meeting in the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem, last May.”(4)
But we must swallow to the dregs this terrible drink of the vintage Nostra Aetate, and listen to these words pronounced by the pope on November 30, answering to the journalists on the plane, returning from Turkey:
I believe that with Orthodoxy we are on our way. They have the sacraments, the apostolic succession… we are going along. What do we have to wait for? For the theologians to agree? That day will never come, I assure you, I am skeptical. Theologians work well, but I remember what was said in connection to what Athenagoras had said to Paul VI: 'Let us advance alone; and let us put all the theologians on an island, to reflect!' (…) One cannot wait: unity is a road, a way to follow, to follow together. And that is the spiritual ecumenism: to pray together, to work together, there are many works of charity, there is much work to be done… To teach together… To go ahead together. It is spiritual ecumenism (…) I will say something that perhaps some will not be able to understand, but… The Catholic Eastern churches have the right to exist, it is true. But uniatism is a word of another time. Today one cannot speak thus. Another road must be found.”
In that way the successor of Peter peremptorily buries the outmoded “uniatism” to follow a road which we cannot follow without losing ourselves.
Let us remain faithful to the teaching of our venerated founder, Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, who, at the time of the Council, in his fifth intervention on ecumenism, declared to the Conciliar Fathers:
The unique and indispensable source of unity is the Supreme Pontiff, Successor of Peter and Vicar of Christ. There where the Vicar of Christ is, there is the Roman Catholic Church. There where the Vicar of Christ is, there is the Church of the Apostles. There is one God, one Christ, one Vicar of Christ, one Church. However, here on earth, only the Roman Pontiff is the Vicar of Christ. This truth, by itself, with strength and sweetness, attracts souls toward the Church, Bride of Christ and our Mother. [...] This is why nobody will be saved who, knowing that the Church was divinely instituted by Christ, refuses however to subject himself to the Church, or denies the obedience due to the Roman Pontiff, Vicar of Christ. Indeed, our Savior did not only prescribe to all men to enter into the Church; He also instituted the Church as means of salvation without which nobody can enter the kingdom of heavenly glory.”(5)
- (1). From the Vatican website: - Apostolic voyage of Pope Francis in Turkey (November 28-30, 2014), Press conference of the Holy Father during the return flight from Turkey (Sunday, November 30, 2014).
- (2). Le Figaro of November 29, 2014: Pope Francis dares to pray in the Blue Mosque of Istanbul, by Jean-Marie Guenois.
- (3). DICI #306 of December 5, 2014: The visit of the Pope Francis in Turkey.
- (4). La Croix of November 30, 2014.
- (5). Intervention of November 26, 1963.