Thankfully, there are places where the simple coexistence of faithful Christians and Muslims is a joy to witness.
In a peaceful grove of trees overlooking the ancient city of Ephesus stands a dignified one-story stone abode called Mary’s House, widely considered to be where the Virgin Mary lived her last years.
Pilgrims — including Muslims, for whom Mary is honored as the virgin mother of Jesus, a great prophet — visit, pray and light candles. In fact, Mary is the woman most frequently mentioned in the Quran and the only one referred to by name.
Pope Benedict celebrated Mass in front of the house on his pilgrimage to Turkey in 2006. Pope John Paul II came in 1979, as did Pope Paul VI in 1967.
The last papal visit underscored the Catholic Church’s hope that Turkey, an emerging economic geopolitical giant — not to mention a massive land bridge joining Europe to the Middle East and Asia — can model positive dialogue between the world’s two global religious powers: Christianity and Islam.
Even faced with the suspicious murder of several clerics, the Catholic Church has forged ahead with dialogue. Most chilling, in 2010, Bishop Luigi Padovese, Apostolic Vicar of Anatolia and President of the Turkish Bishop’s Conference, was beheaded by his driver as he prepared to meet Pope Benedict the next day on the island of Cyprus.
So how is Turkey progressing, and what are the Church’s current expectations for a country known as Asia Minor in the New Testament and the birthplace of St. Paul?
A Franciscan friar, hesitant to be named, who lives near Mary’s House, reflected on the Turkish state of affairs: “Few Catholics live in Turkey, and Christians overall live on the margins. But look, here, this shrine is beautiful, and we’ve been allowed to develop it, enhance it. Everyone watches Prime Minister [Recep] Erdoğan intensely for signs of progress.”