Friday, January 1
O Holy Night....Part I
O Holy Night...it's Christmas Eve in Istanbul.
Of course you would not know it. For most people here, it is just an ordinary Thursday evening. This is a modern Muslim nation. Mosques seem to be around every corner including the famous Blue Mosque
( http://www.sacred-destinations.com/turkey/istanbul-blue-mosque )
and Hagia Sofia which was an early Christian Church turned Mosque turned Museum.
( http://www.sacred-destinations.com/turkey/istanbul-hagia-sophia )
Now mosaics that were once covered up by Muslim intolerance of images are being stripped of plaster to reveal their original glory.
While the minarets announce prayer five times a day filling air waves with a strange wailing, men and women, for the most part, dress in ordinary western clothing. Many of the young are actually quite fashionable and carry ubiquitous mobile phones permanently attached to their ears or so it seems. They obviously are hip and have frequented the shops and boutiques which line the pedestrian boulevard running off of Taksim Square.
We have traveled there on our way to a Catholic Church for Christmas Eve worship. We use the modern Metro and Tram Way system that helps to move the population of over 12.5 million people across Istanbul.
What a surprise to emerge from the Metro and see a Square filled with holiday lights. While Christmas is not a holiday, the city seems to embrace all. I am struck by the openness of ordinary people.
Street vendors, couples strolling, shop keepers are all friendly and helpful. Not only do they offer to show you the "very best carpet in all of Istanbul" or "help you spend your money," but they also are patient and generous in giving directions.
We ask for directions to Saint Antoine Roman Catholic Church. We are told "it's about a kilometer stroll down" We walk down a very upbeat boulevard that's so alive with energy and festooned with blue lights. If I did not know better, I would think I was in Time Square...but only cleaner.
O Holy Night in Istanbul - an energized mixture of Islamic and modern hip cultures spanning both Europe and Asia. The earth crust may have split the continents in prehistoric times forming the Bosporus, but now Istanbul is bridging differences and seems to be conscious of its role and possibility of bringing people together.
We are making our pilgrimage to St. Antoine's. It's a longer walk than we thought. We stop several times to ask directions. People look at us with some puzzlement and then remembering they say "yes, yes" pointing further down the boulevard.
Fran is the first to see the Church. She along with Justin are Peace Corp Volunteers or as they say in the land of acronyms - PCVs. We have come from the far corners of Ukraine to meet in Istanbul.
Fran is an historian and has been an executive with the National Council for the Humanities in their DC and Florida offices. Justin is a philosophy and ethics graduate from the University of Northern Michigan. Fran and I work at Community Development and Justin is Youth Development volunteer in his small town of about 1400. We have become great friends.
St Antoine's is tucked behind a high iron fence and if it wasn't for the people streaming in through the gate, you might miss it amidst the glitter of the boulevard. We stop to take a few pictures. It is an attractive structure. Don't you think?
Near the front steps is a bronze statue. It is a likeness of Pope John XXIII. None of us realized that the reforming Pope who initiated the Second Vatican Council, also served here for 10 years before becoming Pope. I imagine him walking up these stairs. Greeting the people and preaching from that pulpit.
I wonder what he taught Istanbul and what Istanbul taught him. He was a Pope of Peace and ecumenical outreach. I think we need his spirit among us now more than ever. My heart is full and my eyes brim over as I mount the steps and enter the sanctuary.
O Holy Night in Istanbul...