A group of Australian Muslim and Catholic leaders participated in a joint prototype pilgrimage to Istanbul and Rome. This tour enabled religious leaders from both faith groups to study and understand each others’ religious values, customs and significant institutions by means of a close encounter. Spending two weeks together, meant that the 11 Muslims and 11 Christians would travel, eat and sleep together, sharing all the special moments as well as the challenging ones. It certainly was living dialogue to the fullest.
The important pilgrimage was organised under the umbrella of the historic MoU signed between the Catholic Archdiocese of Melbourne and the Australian Intercultural Society, Affinity’s sister organisation in Melbourne.
From Affinity, our President Mr Mehmet Saral and Vice-President Mrs Zuleyha Keskin participated on this tour. Also, the Executive Adviser to Affinity, Mr Orhan Cicek attended.
The participants were from various backgrounds which made the trip even more interesting.
The Christian participants were:
- Bishop Christopher Prowse : Auxiliary Bishop of Melbourne, Member of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue.
- Fr John Dupuche : Chair of the Catholic Interfaith Committee and member of the Ecumenical and Interfaith Commission.
- Mr David Schütz : Executive Officer of the Ecumenical and Interfaith Commission of the Catholic Archdiocese of Melbourne.
- Dr Stewart Sharlow : Director, Asia-Pacific Centre for Inter-religious Dialogue at Australian Catholic University.
- Mrs Charlotte Haine-Sharlow : Member of the Catholic Interfaith Committee of the Catholic Archdiocese of Melbourne.
- Fr Denis Stanley : Parish Priest of St. Francis Xavier’s Catholic Parish, Frankston; Vice President Victorian Council of Churches.
- Dr Gwenda Rait : Member of the Ecumenical and Interfaith Commission and Catholic Interfaith Committee of the Catholic Archdiocese of Melbourne.
- Dr Max Stephens : Australian Catholic University / University of Melbourne. Member of the Ecumenical and Interfaith Commission of the Catholic Archdiocese of Melbourne.
- Dr Anita Ray : Research Fellow at the Asia-Pacific Centre for Inter-religious Dialogue, Australian Catholic University (Melbourne) and former lecturer in Sanskrit at the Asian
Studies Department, La Trobe University.
- Dr Anne Hunt : Campus Dean of the Ballarat Campus of Australian Catholic University.
- Fr John Pearce : Priest of the Passionist order. He is currently Parish Priest at St Brigid’s Marrickville (Sydney), and is part of the local Ministers Fellowship and Multi-faith Round
- Prof Greg Barton : Professor of Politics and Director of the Centre for Islam in the Modern World at Monash University. (Greg Barton joined us for 6 days of the tour)
- Mr Mehmet Saral : Affinity Intercultural Foundation, New South Wales, President and Cofounder.
- Mrs Zuleyha Keskin : Affinity Intercultural Foundation, New South Wales, Vice President.
- Mr Orhan Cicek : Australian Intercultural Society, Victoria, Executive Advisor and Cofounder.
- Mrs Turkan Cicek : Australian Intercultural Society Women’s Network, Victoria, Coordinator.
- Mr Fatih Asar : Queensland Intercultural Society, President.
- Prof Ismail Albayrak : Australian Catholic University, Melbourne, Fethullah Gülen Chair.
- Mr Ikebal Patel : Australian Federation of Islamic Councils, President.
- Mr Albert Fatileh : Member of the Victoria Police Multicultural Advisory Unit, Secretary of the Victoria Police Multi-Faith Council.
- Mr Mustafa Ally : Crescents Community News, Queensland Editor-in-Chief.
- Mr Osman Karolia : Arkana Islamic College, New South Wales, Principal.
- Miss Heba Ibrahim : Board member of the Islamic Council of Victoria (ICV), secretary to the executive committee (portfolios are: government, policy and advocacy as well as interfaith).
Itinerary of the tour
The tour was a nice combination of visiting important people, holy places and historical sites. This ensured that we group had an all rounded experience of the two cities; Istanbul and Rome.
Visiting Sultan Ahmet Square, Istanbul, which contains the Blue Mosque (aka Sultan Ahmet Mosque), Haghia Sophia, Topkapi Palace, Hagaia Erenia Church in Topkapi palace, Hippodrome, Obelisk of Theodosius, Serpentine Column, German Fountain of Wilhelm II and the Sixth-century Byzantine cistern. The history in just this square was so substantial that most of the ~8 Million tourists who visit Istanbul every year do not leave without visiting the Sultan Ahmet Square.
Grand Bazaar, Istanbul
Grand Bazaar is a small town in itself, with miles of pasSağ eways, mosques, banks, police stations, restaurants—and ~4000 shops. It is a very historical site, built by the Ottomans and is the largest number of shops in a shopping centre found anywhere in the World. All the shops have traditional bazaar authenticity about them.
Meeting with Istanbul Deputy Lord Mayor
Along with our tour partners in Turkey – PASIAD (Asia-Pacific Social & Economic Solidarity Foundation), our touring party visited the Istanbul Major City Deputy Lord Mayor, Mr Ahmet Selamat, gave us a brief description of Istanbul and its 39 Council regions across Istanbul.
Meeting at Private Colleges in Turkey
There are around 500 of these “Values based education” private colleges in Turkey. The colleges have state of the art facilities with the most advanced educational and recreational facilities for students. We visited two of these colleges in our 7 day stay in Turkey:
– Cemberlitas FEM College in Istanbul: We met His Eminence Mr Mehmet Ali Sengul , who inspired us with his great words of wisdom.
– Buyukkoyuncu Private College in Konya, where a Whirling Derwish presentation was conducted by students from the College.
Meeting at Writers and Journalists Foundation
We visited was “The Writers & Journalists Foundation”. Formed in 1994, this foundation’s main focus is to conduct dialogue initiatives in a country which is 98% Muslim amongst the minority groups in Turkey, such as Greek, Armenian, Assyrian Orthodox Churches, Alawi groups etc. The organisation was a frontier in creating positive social changes for minorities in Turkey. The organisation also focuses on Sunni/Shiite relations and building relations with the Kurdish community. The forming of this organisation has led to the creation of other similar interfaith and intercultural foundations in other parts of the World.
Visit Pope Roncalli House and Catholic Centre and Vatican Ambassador for Istanbul
Visit to the house in which Archbishop Angelo Roncalli – later John XXIII – lived while Papal Nuncio to Turkey prior to and during the Second World War. This house had direct significance for us on this pilgrimage. It is said that it was in this house – which is still used for the Papal Nuncio in Turkey (currently Archbishop Antonio Lucibello) – that Roncalli developed the idea of a new ecumenical council. Later, this idea came to a reality when Roncalli was elected Pope. It is directly because of that Council’s statement on the relation of the Church to other religions (Nostra Aetate 1965) that a pilgrimage such as ours has become a possibility more than sixty years later.
Visiting Assyrian Catholic Leader, Yusuf Sag
The Chorepiscopus and his wife have lived in Istanbul for 46 years. He ushered us into a very formal meeting room (Vatican style) which had one wall full of floral tributes that had been sent to the Assyrians for Easter – mostly (and he made a big point of this) from Muslim organisations in the City.
His sense of humour was extremely entertaining and his welcome was very warm. His Eminence, Yusuf Sağ, talked to us about the importance of dialogue and of the importance of Easter. He spoke of Fethullah Gülen with great admiration for his work.
Visiting Fatih University
Fatih University is a privately run university which teaches subjects in Engineering, Sciences and the Arts. It has become one of the most popular universities, particularly to overseas students.
Visit to Rumi’s Tomb and Mawlana Museum and historical sites of Konya
One of the most popular poets among Western readers today is a poet from the 13th century, Rumi. Rumi still inspires many with his works. Rumi came from the tradition of mystical Islam. One of its better known features is the whirling dervishes whose swirling dance is aimed at creating a sense of transcendence.
Visiting the Tomb of Rumi as part of our joint pilgrimage is not only significant for Muslim’s, but also very important to many people in the West. The famous saying of Rumi continue to inspire people centuries later;
“Come, come again, whoever you are, come!
Heathen, fire worshipper or idolatrous, come!
Come even if you broke your penitence a hundred times,
Ours is the portal of hope, come as you are.”
– BACK TO ISTANBUL
Visiting Istanbul Deputy Mufti Mehmet Asik Visit to ‘Academia’ wherea group discussion took place with Academia’s schilars
The Turkish Religious Affairs Ministry Deputy Mufti, Mr Mehmet Asik, was also visited. The Religious Affairs Ministry of Turkey provides trained and College educated Imam’s to head up many of the Mosque’s in Turkey. It also provides University educated Imam’s to conduct theological research including producing many Islamic publications and to perform sermons at Mosque’s during the Friday and Eid Festival prayers.
Visit to ‘Academia’ wherea group discussion took place with Academia’s scholars Visit to Samanyolu Television Station STV
Academia’s focus is to publish books on various Islamic and contemporary issues facing the World today. A lot of the thoughts of Gülen are also published here by many scholars.
Visit to Samanyolu Television Station (STV)
STV TV station is one of the most popular watched TV stations in Turkey. There are now 6 TV stations that have sprung from this initial one, with a BBC type news channel, a religious channel and a channel broadcast in English in the USA called Ebru TV.
Visit to Zaman Newspaper, Turkey’s highest circulation Daily
Zaman has the highest circulation daily in Turkey with ~1 Million subscribers/sales. The newspaper was initially setup by businessmen and journalists who wanted a daily which didn’t sensationalise news and which presented unbiased news with true facts.
Daily Visit to Historical places in Rome
Rome, like Istanbul, is an Open Air Museum, with so many historical buildings to see. From The Forum, the Coliseum, Piazza, The Pantheon, Piazza Navona, The Trevi Fountain, The Spanish Steps to the Vatican City itself with St Peter’s Basilica, there is so much history through the streets of Imperial Rome.
Reception with His Excellency, the Hon. Tim Fisher, Australian Ambassador to The Holy See
The Hon Tim Fischer hosted the touring party in a reception at the Australian Embassy to the Vatican’s residence. As you would all know Mr Fischer was the former Nationals Leader and Deputy PM of Australia during the Howard government. There were many dignitaries at the reception including the Turkish Ambassador to the Holy See, Mr Muammer Dogan Akdur, Protestant and Catholic Clerical leaders and the Director of English and Italian Programming for the Vatican Radio, Mr Sean-Patrick Lovett.
Meeting with staff of the Pontifical Council for Inter-religious Dialogue
We were received by Monsignor Khaled Akasheh, who was the Head Officer for Islam in the Pontifical Council. He gave us a rundown of the works undertaken by the Council and the relations it has with people of other faiths, particularly Islam.
General Papal audience
The group attended the weekly Papal Mass at St Peters Square. The Pope and the audience were notified of our Muslim-Christian group’s presence and the fact that we were making an interfaith pilgrimage to the Vatican, which was a pioneering achievement.
We attended the Gregorian University and attended the Study of Religions & Culture Department under the leadership of Jesuit leader Felix Korner. This was the Institute where Bishop Prowse had studied in Rome many years back.
Pontifical Institute of Arabic and Islamic Studies: Director, Fr. Miguel A. Ayuso
Fr Miguel Ayuso gave us a very good run down of the Institute for Arabic & Islamic studies. He informed us that the Institute currently has 55 students with 25 Professors. There are 37,000 books in Arabic and Islamic Studies. The Institute published a book in 1975 called “Islamachristiana”. Version 34 of this book was published this year. They also published a second book called “Ecumenism in Islam” and a 3rd book is out soon as well.
The Istituto Tevere is an intercultural centre established in Rome. His Eminence Abdullah Aymaz and Mustafa Cenap Aydin, Coordinator for the Tevere Institute, gave us a quick rundown of the Centre and answered many questions from the touring party. Afterwards, they brought us all to the finest restaurant in Rome for dinner.
Visit to Francis of Assisi
Visited the Town of Assisi, which is 2 hours north of Rome. We visited the St Mary of the Angels, Basilica of St Francis and the Basilica of S. Chiara. We also walked through the medieval city with its original streets and houses.
The Grand Mosque
We attended The Grand Mosque in Rome to allow for the Muslim participants to attend the regular Friday prayers. The Mosque would have had around 3,000 people attending the Friday prayer that day. It was a wonderful Mosque built and paid for by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
- There was no hint of proselytism here. There was the simple desire to respect each other’s religion and learn. It was a humble desire to “make the peace” on a local level in a time of global ignorance and ideological violence between the two great missionary religions of the world: Christianity and Islam. We were not disappointed. The pilgrimage failed to produce any hint of religious relativism and syncretism between us. On the contrary, it produced a rich harvest of peoples profoundly formed in their own religions and eagerly informed in the religion of the “other”.
Bishop Christopher Prowse
Auxiliery Bishop, Catholic Archdiocese of Melbourne
- In Rome the Monastery was full of history and being able to spend some nights in it was in itself a highlight. The discussions with the Vatican’s Interfaith arm was very encouraging. The Australian Ambassador to the Vatican, Honourable Tim Fisher was a very good host who arranged for a number of good contacts to be made within a few short hours. All in all, the study tour was really intense but also very rewarding. Both the Muslim and Catholic participants were sincere in their dialogue and willing to learn and to teach other at the same time and also to take care of each other.
Mr Iqbal Patel
President, Australian Federation of Islamic Councils
- Turkish food and hospitality are marvelous. At our first hotel, The Golden Horn, there must have been fifty separate dishes at the breakfast buffet. It is next to impossible therefore to have a light breakfast when the food and cakes are so fresh and inviting.
Dr Max Stephens
Senior Research Fellow, Australian Catholic University
- The opportunity to travel, eat and sleep with 11 Catholics over a fortnight demonstrated that followers of both religious traditions can not only learn from each other but actually enjoy their company. I was thrilled to visit places holy to Christians and learn more about their faith and I was impressed at their enthusiasm to absorb knowledge on Islam. It was satisfying to be a part of a group that did not just talk about peace and tolerance but actually demonstrated it in all that we did.
Mr Osman Karolia
School Principal, Arkana College