Catholic-Muslim Pilgrimage – Day Two (April 14): "The Priest Hole"

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.

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14 Responses to Catholic-Muslim Pilgrimage – Day Two (April 14): "The Priest Hole"

  1. Joshua says:

    Surely, David, there is a Catholic church – of Eastern or Western rite – in Istanbul, which you could have, ahem, _previously_ booked to use? I assume the locals would have liked having a visit from an Australian party, including a bishop…

    • Schütz says:

      Not on this side of the Bosphorus, old chap. And it would have taken about an hour to drive us there and back. We will do that on Sunday. What you suggest is the equivalent of scheduling in a visit to the Grand Mosque each day. we will go on tri day in Rome but for the rest of the time our Muslim friends will have to pray in suitable locations which we will prearrange.

  2. Matthias says:

    I read a book many years ago entitled ”THE SHADOW OF ROME” which detailed the excesses of the inquisition,little realising at that time that catholics copped it in the England of Edward VI,Elizabeth ,James I,and the 11 i recall hearing my 6th grade teacher-a Catholic- having the Act of Toleration explained to him by another teacher,as he had become upset when a visiting speaker talked about the glory of Protestant England.
    By the way talking about the Stuarts, a late uncle of my wife’s said that she and he,were descendants of Flora MacDonald ,the young woman who rowed Bonnie Prince Charlie over to the Isle of Skye.You know the “Skye Boat song”.
    I queried it but a Scottish friend said to me with great certainty “That’s correct”. So my wife has an ancestor who helped the Catholic Kings over the water

  3. Pax says:

    Makes you realise how privileged we are to be able to attend mass so easily and freely back in Oz!

    • Schütz says:

      our Muslim participants also recognize that Australian law allows for freedoms that they cannot take for granted even in some secular countries…

      • Susan Peterson says:

        What is most sensitive, which you don’t quite address, is that it was Moslems who conquered Constantinoble (which they now call Istanbul) and stole Hagia Sophia from the Christians. The best thing about the story is that the night before it fell, Orthodox and Catholics celebrated the Eucharist together in Hagia Sophia one last time. It would be worth dying at the hands of the infidel the next day, in order to be able to join in that celebration, I think. And it is still Moslems holding the Ecumenical Patriarch prisoner when he should be celebrating the Divine Liturgy in Hagia Sophia. (the only reason it isn’t still a mosque is that this was won as a compromise with the Turks at Yalta. The allies should have held out for having it be a church again.)
        So why, exactly, are we having an interfaith pilgrimage? Certainly those individual Moslems aren’t to blame for what was done in 1453 and probably they can do nothing either, about what the Turkish government is doing to the Ecumenical patriarch, so I would be glad to be personally friendly to them qua individuals so long as this is possible, but I don’t see the point of conciliatory gestures to them qua Moslems.
        Furthermore, I see Moslems as advancing into and taking over Europe, as they have been trying to do for centuries, only now Europe is basically committing suicide. At some point I think the US and Australia are going to have to go to the rescue of Christians in Europe…or perhaps it will be too late for that and we will all live under Moslem oppression. Are you trying to pave the way for a more comfortable dhimmitude? Frankly I would prefer it if we could join a new Crusade with a good chance of success, to recapture Hagia Sophia and restore it as the cathedral church of the Ecumenical Patriarch.
        Susan Peterson


        • Schütz says:


          This would take a long time to explain in detail, and perhaps the post that I will enter for today will address some of your concerns.

          In short, let me just say that there are differing interpretations about what happened in 1453 and about the situation today. (See today’s post).

          Also the situation in Turkey today for Muslims is not quite what you describe. The State of Turkey is secularist, not Islamic. The current prime minister and President are progressively Islamic – but labels as we use them in the West make little sense here.

          Regarding the purpose of the Pilgrimage, please continue to read the posts of my reports with an open mind – and I hope you will learn to understand the benefit of this unique endeavour.

          As for the current situation of the Church of Hagia Sophia, you are treading on ground as sensitive as that surrounding the Temple Mount in Jerusalem on this one. I have already had the discussion with our Muslim pilgrimage partners. Certainly in an ideal world the Church would be returned to the use for which it was originally built, but don’t forget that it was a Mosque for 500 years also, and if use determines sanctity, well, that’s a mighty claim. Truth be told, I don’t know if the Orthodox Church would want it back even if it were offered. Currently it is being restored and kept up with the finances of the Turkish Government. Personally, I think the happiest solution would be to retain the building as a Museum – for the most part: BUT to convert the two upstairs wings of the Church into a Muslim prayer room (on the north side) and a Christian Chapel (on the south side with the mosaics).

          Whatever your argument on this matter, though, it isn’t an argument with either Turkey’s or Australia’s current Muslim population. You will have to take it up with Sultan Fatih and Attaturk in another life…

          • Susan Peterson says:

            I think it is a shocking idea to have a Muslim prayer room in a Christian Church. And I am sure Orthodox all over the world would be glad to send money to restore Hagia Sophia. Catholics too, for that matter.
            It was a mosque for 500 years because they stole it by violent conquest and committed the sacrilege of false worship in it for 500 years, and this gives them no claim at all to it. None whatsoever, and none should ever be acknowledged.

            If Turkey is a secular state, ie religiously neutral…then why exactly is the Ecumenical Patriarch a prisoner in his compound…and why does Turkey refuse to let him be called the Ecumenical Patriarch? When the Pope was there they confiscated press passes which said “Ecumenical Patriarch” and substituted ones that said something like “Bishop of the Romans of Istanbul.” Why do the presume to say who can be elected next as Ecumenical Patriarch..that he has to be a Turkish citizen. An Orthodox Bishop who is a Turkish citizen to fill this role will be difficult to find. I am hoping the Pope will go there when his friend the EP is dying, and dare the Turks to do anything, while they elect a non Turk as EP.

            I think it is simply naive to think that peace will prevail. We are fighting Muslim extremists now and we will continue to fight them, if our current kowtowing milquetoast of a president doesn’t give away the whole game…and despite his cowardly bowing and scraping and “apologizing” he does seem to be asking for funding for the military in Afghanistan, so I am still hopeful that we will survive him.

            I know some Moslems do piously practice their false religion, and do not hate us or want to conquer the world, but they aren’t going to be the ones who say what happens.

            Those who shill for leftists are considered useful idiots by communists and are discarded as useless and dangerous once the communists actually take over. Right now the leftists are themselves all acting as useful idiots for Moslem extremists, by letting them Moslems into their countries all over Europe, then by not making them live by European laws, not prosecuting them for their offenses against women and so on. Eventually all those leftists who are still alive are going to learn to their sorrow what absolute idiots they were.

            I don’t believe there can be any peace with Islam except by surrender.

            Susan Peterson

            • Schütz says:

              Dear Susan,

              Please try to be a little moderate. There are Muslims who are reading this blog as I travel, and you are really not attempting to understand the situation very well.

              The situation of the Ecumenical Patriarch in Constantinople has nothing whatsoever to do with Islam. It is entirely to do with the secularist (not “leftist”) State. The labels “left” and “right” do not work here. You must understand that the system set up by Attaturk was in reaction to the Ottoman state, and continues to be so today.

              Nor are the Muslims currently in government extremists of any kind.

              Yes, there are many problems in Turkey today regarding freedom of religion, but, if you will allow me to say so, you do not have a very good handle on the situation.

              Keep reading the blog and be open to learning.

            • Schütz says:

              I might also add that the Christians in Turkey were in fact better off under the Ottoman State than they are today under the Secularist state. Of coure, the same can certainly be said for the Muslims.

            • Pax says:

              Perhaps it is useful to remember a beautiful common belirf between muslims and chrisitans and that is our deep respect for the Virgin Mary. I believe the Holy Mother will protect and guide all muslims with a devotion to her and that she will lead them to Jesus as she leads every soul who turns to her for help.As to other aspects of Islam perhaps Jesus parable of the wheat and tares is significant ?

            • Louise says:

              I think it is a shocking idea to have a Muslim prayer room in a Christian Church.

              I just have to say that I agree with this statement.

              By all means let the Muslims have their mosques and let the Christians have their churches, but let’s not try to mush them up together in this way.

            • Schütz says:

              I would say only that I wonder ?f e?ther of you, Lou?se and Susan, have actually explored what Islam?c prayer ?s. Read my latest post for an example of Chr?st?ans and Musl?ms pray?ng together – and not any old l?beral e?ther – led and ?n?t?ated by the Chorep?scopus of the Assyr?an Church ?n Istanbul.

  4. Fatih Asar says:

    Dear David,
    Your very-well written blog brought back many nice memories. Hope you and your family are doing well.
    Hope everybody one day realize we live in 21th century not 13th.
    Peace and love,

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