02 December 2014

Hanging With Pope Francis

A little more than a month ago, KMac posted a link to my Facebook page announcing that His Holiness Pope Francis was coming to visit me. Well not me specifically I suppose, but Turkey. I didn't figure that Mass was going to be open to the public so I started asking around right away about how to make attending a possibility and my fantastic parish priest said he would try to get me a ticket. He not only came through on the ticket but asked me to assist in the Mass.


I arrived at Santo Espirito, the Catholic Cathedral here in Istanbul, a little before 9:00 as requested. By about 10:30 we were finally allowed in, after which my priest ran those of us helping with Communion through what were would be doing. Normally in Catholic Mass, those who may receive Communion leave their seat and queue, receive Holy Communion, then return to their seat. Probably for security people weren't allowed to do that on Saturday. So our job was to accompany a priest who would take care of several rows of seats, and assist both those who could receive Communion in coming forward as well as make sure the priest got around to everyone. I was in the balcony of the church which I think was rather an easier job than being in the main area. Since we were helping it also meant that we had to be able to get in place quickly which got us reserved seats up front. I was only three rows from the front! My view was slightly obstructed by a large pillar and a cameraman but I still managed to get a glimpse of His Holiness now and again during Mass.

Mass was to begin at 15:30 and doors opened at 13:30. Everyone's tickets were marked with the door they should use to enter; unfortunately while tickets were marked A, B, C, and D...there were only two gates and they weren't marked. So it was a mess getting in. Who was surprised?

Near Mass go time when everyone was seated (some 800+ people), His Holiness entered from the main church doors to clapping, cheering, chants of "Papa Francesco!", and people standing on their pews and chairs to get pictures of him. He was escorted fairly quickly into the sacristy to prepare for Mass which began shortly thereafter.

The entrance was impressive. Since the main purpose of his trip to Turkey was to promote Ecumenical unity amongst Christians in Turkey, leaders from other Christian churches including the Syriac Catholic, Armenian Orthodox, and Greek Orthodox (amongst others) were invited to concelebrate.  There were some spectacularly bedazzled robes happening. As is his wont, His Holiness's vestments were modest. I think it was the representative from the Armenian church maybe...wore a long mantel over his robes that was carried by assistant priests and had some serious jingle bells attached to it. Every time he moved I thought Rudolph and the other eight reindeer were going to make an entrance.

The majority of the Mass parts, at least those His Holiness said, were in Latin (as they should be darn it all). For me personally, the 'going out of the way to include all possible languages' resulted in a messy and confused thing that didn't feel like Mass. At least not to me. This actually ranks in my top five weirdest Masses. Broken down into its parts it went:
  • Introductory Rite - Armenian
  • Latiny Mass stuff
  • Penitential Rite- Turkish
  • Latiny Mass stuff
  • Gloria - Latin and Turkish
  • Collect - Latin
  • First Reading - Spanish
  • Responsorial Psalm - Arabic
  • Second Reading - this seems to have been cut from the Mass
  • Gospel - Turkish then Italian
  • Homily - His Holiness said his homily in Italian (see here for English translation) and our Bishop did a second homily in Turkish
  • Prayers of the Faithful - Italian, French, Arabic, Turkish, English, Spanish (one each)
  • Eucharistic Liturgy-Latin
  • Sanctus - Armenian
  • Communion Rite - Latin
  • Agnus Dei - Turkish
  • Conclusion Rite - Latin

Just stop messing with me and put everything back to Latin! A lot of people have complaints about the Pope Emeritus and I was a little skeptical about him myself until I found out that he fed the stray cats that hang out in the Fora in Rome (there's even a children's book about him as told by a cat-it's awesome); but he was a big proponent of celebrating the Mass in Latin and made it easier for churches to do so. I will always like him for that. And the cats.

Sadly, the Mass, though an amazing and awesome experience, was a bit of a let down for me. Part of it was that it was difficult to follow, jumping from one language to the next as it did. It didn't help that I was seated near groups of Italians who will persist in talking (again-who's surprised?) regardless of where they are. I think the world has this image of Italians being super Catholic, and I did too before I started attending Masses with them. In Medjugorje they are a scourge and KMac and I had a hard time holding onto our holiness with them around. This was a Papal Mass though. A PAPAL MASS! and they were chatting! I just...no, dudes. No. With the chatting, people constantly shoving through the narrow aisles jostling those of us along the sides as they jockeyed for position to take a picture, and losing my place when the Mass took a turn to a language I don't know; there were just too many disruptions for me to lose myself to the experience.

Even with my mom reminding me that the Papal Mass fulfilled my Sunday obligation I decided to go to Mass again Sunday and I'm so glad I did. I'd forgot that Sunday was the first day of Advent. It was also the feast day of Saint Andrew (the Apostle) and therefore my name day (which my priest pointed out to me after Mass). Aaand everyone from my parish who was at the Papal Mass was also in Mass on Sunday so if I hadn't shown up I'd have looked like a real slacker.

My mom said she'd spoken to a number of people back in the States who were all wondering why His Holiness was visiting Turkey. The main purpose was to encourage and promote Christian unity, to bring together both leaders and practitioners of all the Christians, Catholics, Orthodox, and the various Protestants alike. He also made statements extolling Muslim leaders to condemn terrorism and help stop the ISIS attacks in Syria and in Turkish border towns. But why the heck wouldn't he come here, is what I want to know. We may be the minority and we may not be able to practice our religion(s) openly but there are still a fair number of Christians here. Personally I hope his visit serves as reminder to President Erdogan, who not too long ago declared that Christianity isn't a real religion, that we are here and the world knows there are Christians here.

I also appreciate the moral support. It's not like we're living in Saudi Arabia or anything and despite the increasing Islamization here we're still allowed to practice other religions; sort of. I've spoken before about how non Muslims aren't allowed to practice their religions outside the compounds of their churches and synagogs etc. That extends even to priestly vestments. My priest, who is Franciscan and therefore wears the traditional brown monk habit with rope belt and long hood, told me that he felt very self-conscious the day of the Mass because it was one of the only times in the 11 years he's lived here that he has worn his robes off church grounds. Outside of special circumstances, such as a Papal visit, such a thing is forbidden here. Similarly, while I have seen nuns wearing veils I've never seen one in full habit.

Regardless of why he was here, how I felt about the Mass, or my personal concerns about the future of Christianity in Turkey (which once was the very cradle thereof); I am blessed and appreciative of the opportunity I had to not only attend but assist in a Papal Mass. It is something I will not soon forget.

The full Mass can be viewed on YouTube.

On a related note (related only because there was someone playing one before Mass) I've decided to take up the ney which is a traditional Turkish flute (looks like a recorder). Sherlock is so not going to like this. But then I don't like it when she uses her lethal claws to climb up my leg which she will insist in doing so...even Stevens.

No comments: