The publication of this little volume was the occasion for an interreligious and ecumenical meeting, original both for the composition of the panel of speakers and those present in the hall. The introduction was made by the Patriarch Bartholomew I, Cardinal Angelo Scola, Archbishop of Milan, and Mons. Louis Pelâtre, Vicar Apostolic of Istanbul, and two Muslim professors: Niyazi Öktem, professor of the Philosophy of Law at the university of Doğuş and Fatih of Istanbul, and Erendiz Özbayoğlu, professor of Latin Language and Literature at the University of Istanbul. Among the two hundred people present in the hall there were religious from different communities, lay people from Catholic movements that are active in Istanbul (Neo-catechumenals, Focolarini, Carismatics…) but also people from other Christian groups and Muslim friends. This variety was clear also for the number of languages spoken: Turkish above all, but also Italian, French, English, Armenian, Bulgarian and Romanian… And it was a reflection of the different origins of Christians who today through unpredictable ways form the real life of the church in Turkey.
Common to all, however, was the curiosity for that terrible persecutor of Christians who on the way to Damascus encountered someone so powerful that his whole life changed completely. A figure, that of the Apostle Paul, which, as Bartholomew recalled, left its mark not only on the history of Christianity but also on the thought and traditions of those people he encountered on his tireless journey.
Erendiz Özbayoğlu spoke of the journeys and the action of evangelization carried out by the Saint. Basing his talk on historical sources she spoke of St Paul’s life before and after his fall from the horse but emphasized his extraordinary conversion from persecutor to fearless announcer, even in chains and up to death, of the salvation that comes from Jesus Christ.
Niyazi Öktem also spoke of Paul as “the Saint from Anatolia”. The Professor stated that: “For a Muslim like me, this meeting is one of the most important in my life, which has been devoted to dialogue for over thirty years. We are descendants of Abraham and according to my belief Islam is the last step in the faith that comes from Abraham. Paul is a saint, a great man from Anatolia, who brought monotheism to my land. The scholars of the Muslim religion must also recognize this”. Looking at the life of Muhammad, Öktem said, we cannot not admit that the prophet of Islam had Jewish and Christian friends”. “The Qur’an claims that Paradise is not a club for Muslims only – the professor stated – but is open to all just people. That is the point on which we must dialogue. The theologian Said Nursi, talking of the Christians who died in Eastern Anatolia during the First World War, courageously affirmed that some of these are not only worthy of being in Paradise, but also of being named among the martyrs, the highest category of the blessed. This is a basic point for dialogue.”
If we look at the present Turkish complex situation, particularly difficult at the moment, a simple gesture such as dialogue on some of Paul’s catechesis cannot be incisive in any extraordinary way in the life of a people oppressed by heavy political and economic tensions, divisions, discriminations. However, it is a fact that a little knowledge of Paul’s Christian ideal can begin to spread among the Christian communities, to reach curious Muslims and even overcoming linguistic barriers.
Underneath all, a new positive approach has started.