Catholic-Muslim Pilgrimage – Day One (April 13): "Was that Turkey or Torquay?"

Well, the rest of the pilgrimage group has arrived, and we have all been checked into the Golden Horn Hotel in Old Istanbul. Out of our bedroom window, Max Stephens and I have a terrific night time view of the Hagia Sophia and Blue Mosque all lit up. More about the Hotel in a moment.

After logging the last report, I received a phone call from Prof. Ismail Albayrak, the ACU professor who holds the position of “Fethullah Gulen Chair in the Study of Islam and Muslim-Catholic Relations”. Ismail is an all-round top bloke – a Turkish citizen who lives with his family in Melbourne and who is joining us for this pilgrimage. He had been in Turkey for a few days already in another city and had just flown into the airport. So he came and joined me and we spent some time looking at my photos of Assisi (or Cathy’s, more accurately) before the rest of the group arrived at about 6:30pm.

It was somewhat surreal eventually seeing all the 21 pilgrims gathered together. There is an extra ring in on the Turkish end, Prof. Greg Barton from Monash. He is joining the AIS Gallipoli tour (which I did in 2007) which starts at the end of this week, but will join us for the first section of our pilgrimage. Otherwise our group is as follows:


Bishop Christopher Prowse (Auxiliary Bishop of Melbourne)
Fr John Dupuche (Chair of the Catholic Interfaith Committee of the Catholic Archdiocese of Melbourne)
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, and helpmate to Stewart)
Fr Denis Stanley (Member of the Ecumenical and Interfaith Commission of the Catholic Archdiocese of Melbourne)
Mrs 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. Chair of the Faith and Order Commission of the Victorian Council of Churches.
Dr Anita Ray (Research Fellow at the Asia-Pacific Centre for Inter-religious Dialogue, Australian Catholic University)
Dr Anne Hunt (Campus Dean of the Ballarat Campus of Australian Catholic University).
Fr John Pearce (Priest of the Passionist order)
Fr Franco Cavarra (Member of the Ecumenical and Interfaith Commission of the Catholic Archdiocese of Melbourne. [Fr Cavarra is present in Rome following the World Youth Day celebrations and will join some of our Pilgrimage activities while we are in Rome.])


Mr Orhan Cicek (Australian Intercultural Society, Victoria, Executive Advisor)
Mrs Turkan Cicek (Australian Intercultural Society Women’s Network, Victoria, Coordinator – and helpmate to Orhan)
Ms Zuleyha Keskin (Affinity Intercultural Foundation, New South Wales, Vice President)
Mr Mehmet Saral (Affinity Intercultural Foundation, New South Wales, President)
Dr Ismail Albayrak (Australian Catholic University, Melbourne, Fethullah Gulen Chair)
Mr Ikebal Patel (Australian Federation of Islamic Councils, President)
Mr Fatih Asar (Queensland Intercultural Society, President)
Mr Osman Karolia (Arkana Islamic College, New South Wales, Principal)
Mr Albert Fatileh (Victoria Police, Multicultural Office)
Ms Heba Ibrahim (Islamic Council of Victoria, Executive Member)
Mr Mustafa Ally (Crescents Community News, Queensland Editor-in-Chief)

When all were ready we were taken to our small coach – and joy of joys! The driver was the same as the one we had when we were last in Istanbul, my good mate who speaks as much English as I do Turkish, Jan. Smiles all round!

We were driven to a very nice hotel where we were welcomed with a formal dinner by Ersin, a leading member of the Turkish group PASIAD, who are a major sponsor of our Turkish Pilgrimage. The dinner was marvellous as expected – but I have learned to pace myself so that I do not over eat at these Turkish feasts. I find the rich food difficult to digest
without any wine to wash it down…

Thoughtfully and thankfully, the dinner did not go late, as the Australian travellers were very tired. We were driven to our lodgings in Old Istanbul, which is, as I said, located very close to the Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque. This is practically the equivalent of our location in Rome, where St Gregory’s is located between the Colosseum and the Circus Maximus and the Forum. The hotel is, in many respects, quite opulent – very Eastern with soft carpets and nice artwork etc. But there is a funny story I have to tell which had me wondering for a moment whether I was in Turkey or Torquay…

I had been allotted a room with Max Stephens. Max was understandably tired after travelling from Singapore over night (nb. the real prize for stamina goes to Fr Denis Stanley who began his Easter sunday in Australia with a 5am vigil – 10pm Saturday night Istanbul time – and then caught the midnight plane for Dubai, finally arriving on Easeter Monday night in Istanbul). When we got to our room (quite small and compact) we were surprised to find only one bed. Fine, I went downstairs and sorted it out. The porter said that he would bring another bed into the room. I went upstairs, and while Max went to make some phone calls, I unpacked all my clothes and belongings into the cupboards. When he got back, he asked if I would mind if he took the only bed and went straight to sleep. Then I received a phone call from the desk asking me to come down to collect a key to another room. Okay, that’s how they were doing it. So I just moved into the new room (taking down all my gear from the wardrobe where I had just arranged it). Max refused to move, as he was just about unconscious with weariness.

The new room had two beds – one as hard as a rock and the other with springs all over the place. It was a hard decision. Once again I unpacked all my clothes etc into the cupboards. Then the porter (let’s call him Basil) called to ask me why Max wasn’t shifting. I explained that he would shift in the morning. No, no, that was no good, one of our two rooms was required for other guests. So Basil turned up with his mate (who, for the sake of simplicity, we will call Manuel) and demanded that Max – by this stage just coming out of the showere with nought but a towel wrapped around him – also pack up and join me in the new room. Nothing doing, said Max. Right, says Basil and Manuel, we’ll move you (ie. me) back in with him. So once again all my clothes are piled into the suitcase and carried back into our original room, followed by Basil and Manuel carrying the rock-hard bed from the new room and putting it into the old room. I guess that solved me having to make that decision!

Time for bed now. Prof Ismail wants to take me down to the Blue Mosque for dawn prayers tomorrow morning. I wonder if he would mind if I took my prayer book and said Lauds…

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One Response to Catholic-Muslim Pilgrimage – Day One (April 13): "Was that Turkey or Torquay?"

  1. Matthias says:

    I envy you being able to have a birds eye view of istanbul-constantinople- from your hotel room. I have just read you previous post and was reminded of the Fawlty towers episode with Mrs Richards who made life terrible for Basil;or the one where the poor gentleman made a celestial transfer ( he died). So watch out for large laundry trolleys Schutz

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