Thursday, April 5, 2007

Holy Thursday

Holy Thursday has always been an important holiday for me.

As a child we would spend it with the Vincentian Fathers in Lemont, Illinois. These wonderful wacky radical priests were my first introduction to feet washing and processions.

Later when I was in Bolivia I had the most moving Holy Thursday of my life when Father Benoit a Capuchin with whom I worked did the Mass for that day and asked each inmate in the jail where I worked to wash the feet of those around him. I always go to Mass on Holy Thursday and today was no exception- Traudi and I are in Istanbul on our 10th anniversary trip. We ventured to the Beyoglu neighborhood here in the city to attend Mass in Turkish, Italian, English and Tagalog. Beyoglu is the only place in this city where one feels the fresh air of post modernity- in some areas like Fatih it is closer to the air of the Prophet than to the post modern world.

Being in Istanbul for the past week and being a Christian a sense of loss is everywhere. We have visited over 10 former Byzantine Churches including the Church of Churches, Hagia Sophia. The desecration of these great churches is jarring for any Christian and while I know that these things happened 500 years ago the melancholy of the desecration still sits on you darkly. I am sure the way Muslims feel when they enter the Alhambra which we desecrated 500 years ago. To stand in Hagia Sophia and know that the Eucharist will never be celebrated in that most Christian of spaces is a sadness that will stay with me.

Once on a business trip to Cordoba, Spain I escaped a day of trade shows and associations to visit the former great mosque of the city. I remember thinking what must it be like to enter the mosque- as a Muslim-and see it now changed into a Cathedral.

What it must be like to be cut off from the place for prayer and know that you are separated from the place by the violent act of force.

Istanbul, the former Constantinople will cause a feeling in your soul. Istanbul is a fabulous place- a place of legend and a place of ghosts. To be in Istanbul during Holy Week also makes one think about the future.

Touring former Churches with hoards of Spanish and Italian tourists who probably never enter Churches in their home nations and wondering how many of their fabulous edifices will be desecrated in the same ways in few years time when no one will attend Mass anymore in those nations?

In the end Istanbul is a city if ghosts and of memory and the fact that it is Holy Week and so few people here even think about remembering that fact in this the city consecrated to the Virgin Hodegetria is a thought for all of us in the West to ponder- Deo Gratia

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