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Proof of Inter-Faith Dialogue In The Name Of Don Santoro

ICC Note: Turkey is simmering with discontent over increased Islamisation in the country, and we are wondering when that discontent will become concrete action to protect religious freedom.

by Mavi Zambak

5/14/07 Turkey (AsiaNews) – Yesterday, for the third time, after Ankara and Istanbul , more than a million people waving Turkish flags in a cheerful and peaceful spirit gathered in Smyrna to uphold the democracy and secularism of the state against all Islamisation bids. Meanwhile, Hatay, the southernmost region of Turkey on the border with Syria , saw an initiative of inter-faith and cultural dialogue among religions present in Turkey , for the second time within a month.

A month ago, the prefect of the region organized a choir of representatives of different religious denominations, making up a total of 90 people divided into six groups (Catholics, Orthodox, Armenians, Jews, Sunnis and Alevites) with 15 singers in each. Every group, with its particular costume – a mark of diversity in unity – prepared and performed, under the guidance of a Turkish teacher, three pieces reflecting their creed and tradition. The event was introduced by the European anthem and ended with a popular Turkish song that everyone sang together.

Muslims, Jews and Christians – ordinary people, employees, businessmen, teachers, students, unemployed and housewives, imams, priests and sisters, young people and elderly, women and children – rehearsed side by side, supported and encouraged each other in their mistakes. Beautiful friendships were born thanks to music and singing. Thus, by singing, as St Augustine used to say, they prayed twice over to the one God in a single choir. And as the vice-prefect said when he proudly complimented the polyphonic performance that was held first in the museum of Antioch and later in the town theatre of the same, “this is not an utopia, but the trademark of an Antioch that wanted to be a sign and prophecy of peaceful co-existence in a world where fighting is taking place, walls are being erected and people are killing each other in the name of religion.

Yesterday was the turn of the official inauguration in Iskenderun of the “Centre of inter-cultural and inter-faith dialogue” dedicated to Fr Andrea Santoro, the Roman “Fidei Donum” priest who was gunned down and killed on 5 February 2006 in his church in Trabzon.

This is a project that Don Andrea himself had presented to Lazio Region with the following aim in mind: “It will be our contribution to overcoming the distances, prejudices and ignorance, thereby laying the basis for co-existence where diversity will not mean division, or worse, hostility, but enrichment available to all and freely circulated.” And he hoped that “we will be able to reach a point where we will get to know each other better, strengthening the bonds of friendship between us in a shared desire to live together in harmony, peace and mutual trust.”

The “Don Andrea Santoro onlus” association, founded by the sister of the murdered priest, Maddalena, responded to this invitation. Together with the diocese of Rome, the Apostolic Vicariate of Anatolia and the association Window to the Middle East, and sponsored by Lazio region that financed the project, the association made itself the bearer and propeller of the initiative, which was realized in the city of Iskenderun, seat of the Apostolic Vicariate of Anatolia in southern Turkey.

The vicar of Anatolia, Mgr Luigi Padovese, introducing a Muslim-Christian symposium held there, said: “On 25 April 2002, I was present at the Vatican when a declaration of shared intent aimed at increasing mutual awareness among Christians and Muslims, eliminating misunderstandings and prejudices, and reinforcing forms of collaboration, was signed between Prof. Mehmet Nuri Yilmaz, president of the religious affairs office of Turkey and Cardinal Francis Arinze, president of the Vatican council for inter-faith dialogue. More recently, Pope Benedict XVI, in a meeting held on 28 November in Ankara with Prof. Ali Bardakoglu, underlined the need for dialogue inspired by a sincere desire to deepen mutual knowledge in respect of our differences and in recognition of shared elements. The aim of our meeting is to take up these invitations, without forgetting that the person of Don Andrea Santoro is at the foundation of this initiative.”

Thus, for two days, around 100 people, Turkish and otherwise, Christians and Muslims, came together to reflect on the make-up and significance of the “Revealed Word” in Christianity and Islam. Distinguished professors like Maurice Bormanns, Giuseppe Ghiberti and Bishop Luigi Padovese himself for the Christian side flanked Turkish teachers from Muslim faculties in Istanbul and Ankara . All put at the disposal of a very attentive and respectful audience their knowledge about the two sacred books, namely the Quran and the Bible.

The Apostolic Nuncio of Ankara, Antonio Lucibello, was present, as was a representative of the religious affairs office of Turkey , and all the civil authorities of the city of Iskenderun . The muftì of the city said he was very honoured by this initiative, adding that the symposium was a clear example that dialogue is not only possible but a need that cannot be underestimated for peaceful co-existence. He said that neither Islam nor any other religion can ever endorse violence for any reason whatsoever, even if, unfortunately, religions are often used to hide problems of human relationships that are rooted in other things (social, economic and political).

At the end of the symposium, a visibly moved Maddalena Santoro said: “In these two days, I have realized that the ‘Don Andrea Centre” is not a physical space as much as an inner place in the heart of all people of good will who seeks with all their strength not to be overtaken by fear of what is different, seeing it as a threat, but who rather allow the other to dwell in them, welcoming him for what he is. This is the legacy and the most precious and beautiful fruit of my brother, who with all his life wanted nothing else but to communicate his faith and identity in respect for the other, to find together common paths of friendship and respect.” These are the only paths that can lead to true peace and dialogue.

The “Rainbow Choir” and the “Don Andrea Centre of inter-cultural and inter-faith dialogue” – two modest lights witnessing to a feasible hope.