The topic of this post might be a little sensitive, but I am going to record it to illustrate some of the real difficulties that an interfaith pilgrimage such as ours can encounter.
Let me say right up that there are going to be a number of the really difficult issues to face once we get to Rome. This includes the issue of what food is suitable to serve our feed our Muslim guests and where we can find it, and where and when and how our Muslim friends’ need to pray might be accomodated. I am fairly confident that we will be able to solve all these problems – especially now that I have Italian speakers to communicate with Seniora Loretta.
But today we had a problem on our side. Bishop Prowse was desirous of having the Catholics celebrate daily mass together on the pilgrimage. So he asked us at the beginning of the day how we should go about doing this. Bishop Prowse had bread, but we had no wine. We also figured that we could go to someone’s room, but we were assured by Orhan that we would be able to find a room for use. In fact, when we asked the staff, they said that we could not use alcohol (necessary in the communion wine) in any public space in the hotel, but had to use one of our private rooms. We elected to do this in the end, taking a coffee table from the corridor and covering it with a white table cloth to be the altar. Nine of us then crammed into this space, where Bishop Prowse celebrated and we eight congregants sat on the beds.
It occured to me that this was the strangest episcopal mass that I had ever been present at. But it also struck me that we had just finished visiting one of the oldest and largest churches in the world, Hagia Sophia, which had been designed for the very purpose of the liturgy which we were now celebrating hidden away in our room. I thought that this must have been how the English Recusants must have felt after the English reformation. Bishop Prowse’s bed room had become our “priest hole”. Ah well. As Louise says, “Jesus turned up as usual.” Of course, Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople is “holed up” in the Fanar more or less. He could accurately be described as “the Prisoner of the Fanar”.
(The local wine, by the way, was not hard to obtain, but was 15 Turkish Lira (1 TL = approx $1) for a half bottle, and not the highest quality. It is a good thing that validity of the sacramanet does not depend upon the quality of the wine.)
After mass, we all met down in the lobby, because we were being taken out to dinner with the Lord Mayor and Deputy Mayor of the City of Istanbul. Jan drove us to a lovely restaurant on the banks of the Bosphorus which was in fact run by the Istanbul Municipal Association. Ersin, the General Secretary of PASIAD, was once again present, as were other municipal dignatories.
I sat next to a young businessman whose business is the live-meat export trade to Saudi Arabia for use in halal ritual sacrifices. I asked him if he had ever been to Australia, since this is where the bulk of hid trade came from. He said no, but he was intending to come soon. I told him to contact me when he got to Australia, and I would take him up to meet my parents on a “real” sheep farm.
The food was very good, but as usual there was lots and lots of it – more than I could reasonably eat. My Turkish business friend was horrified that I did not eat it all, and suggested that I should “take it home to my mother” (Turkish expression). He said that if I was staying in Istanbul for a year, he would see to it that I was fattened up a little.
It was not a late night, but it is late now, and I think it’s time to go to bed.