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Roncalli, The “Turkish Pope”

International Conference in Milan

“Father Roncalli is remembered throughout the whole world, and he is also loved in Turkey, above all in the Jewish and Catholic community. The publication of new books and initiatives in sight of his canonization allow even the youngest to apprehend his message of universal brotherhood”. The hope of Rinaldo Marmara, spokesperson of the Episcopal Conference of Turkey and historian of the Parsonage Apostle of Istanbul, author of the volume Giovanni XXII friend of the Turkish, that went out in the last few days for  Jaca Book, translated thirteen years after the French edition. 

The presentation of the volume, organized on Monday October 28 at Sacred Heart Catholic University in Milan, in collaboration with the Alba Intercultural Association, was an occasion to discuss with the author, the Turkish writer Cemal Ussak, Vittorio Robbiate Bendaud of the Maimonide Foundation and other university academics- Paolo Branca, Luigi Franco Pizzolato, Giorgio Aldo Del Zanna-the period of about 10 years (from 1935-1944) past in Istanbul by Monsignor Angelo Roncalli acting as Delegate Apostle to Turkey and Greece.

His task was delicate, not only because Roncalli arrived in a moment of immense tension between the religious communities of the country of Mezzzaluna and the govement of Kemal Ataturk. Vatican orthodoxy attributes the representation of Saint Sede to the protection of all of the Catholics in the territory, “but Mons. Roncalli conceives the role in an abnormal manner. –explained professor Pizzolato-Representative of the man more than of the Vatican, Roncalli had a heart protected by the faith and religious sentiment of all of the believers. His compassion is the foundation of his mission, shaped to help those in need, at a price of appearing naïve or to be considered diplomatically ineffective”. With this pushed, in the Turkish multi-confessional on the evening of the second world war, to take a start across small “steps of sympathy and human closeness” the way of general dialogue that would be delivered to Vatican Council II, officially opened by Papa Giovanni XXII in October of 1962. 

These passages on Bosforo, underlined Professor Zanna, are the years of the introduction of the Turkish language in liturgical celebrations, even though there is much resistance; to the opening of other religious confessions- the “three-way religious dialogue” (according to the definition of professor Paolo Branca) between Christians, Jewish, and Muslims; of a new vision of matters of the church, that at the center prefers the harmony and understanding of local churches.

A man of peace, adverse to any form of evangelism, Roncalli  did not  fun short of compassion and gave help to the poorest and the weakest. Continue relations with the Armenians, undertaking at times in which he was a visitor in Bulgaria. He intervened around the Santa Sede in favor of the victims of the Greek famine during the Nazi occupation. In 1943 he did not hesitate to write to King Boris III of Bulgaria begging him to disobey his orders from Hitler and help the Jewish refugees in his country. Thanks to the help of Roncalli, a ship carrying fleeing Jewish children from the tenacity and reach of Ankara and finally arrived in a secure port. Roncalli’s journals, his testimonies, are accessible documents today-those of the five years from 1940-1945, that say Marmara, are still not consultable-they tell of many episodes of rescue from the Israelites, “relatives and fellow citizens of Jesus”, in escape from Nazi savagery. 

With Roncalli, the Church learns how to encounter the worlds of others without prejudice nor exclusion. His actions, able to deeply innovate with respect to tradition, have left memories full of gratitude in Turkey. After naming a street in Istanbul, all of the Country is preparing to return compliment in the year of his canonization as the man that here everyone calls “the Turkish pop

6 November 2013

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whoever saves a life saves the entire world

In Yad Vashem's Memorial, in Jerusalem, the Garden of the Righteous remembers those who tried to rescue the Jews in the Holocaust: those who hidd them, helped them expatriate with forged documents, nourished them or gave them a job; those who, seeing them suffer, helped them somehow instead of remaining indifferent.In Yerevan's Wall of Remembrance the memorial stones remember the rescuers of Armenians during the genocide of 1915, those who tried to stop the massacre, refused to obey orders, sheltered children, reported the extermination that was occurring beneath their hopeless eyes to the world's public opinion.
In 1994 in Rwanda, some Tutsies who were hunted by the interahamwe militias were protected by neighbours, friends - some times strangers, too - belonginf to the Hutu ethnic group, who refused participating in the "man hunt" with machetes that had been planned by other Hutus to exterminate the country's Tutsi minority.
While ethnic cleansing was ravaging Bosnia leading to the murder of thousands innocent victims some people trying to escape the massacre were helped in the same way by neighbours, school mates, friends, or strangers, who were members of other ethnic groups.
Still todate, in many places in the world, there are such rescuers who risk and sometimes lose their lives in the attempt of helping the victims, and become victims themselves. Other times they lose their jobs, wellbeing, social status or they are imprisoned, tortured, cast out. At any rate, even before starting their endeavours, they know they run a serious risk, but they prefer doing so rather than bearing the weigh of remorse for remaining indifferent for the rest of their lives. Everytime by their action they "save the entire world", as stands in the Talmud.


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