Patriarch’s pilgrimages arouse political interest

The pilgrimages by Ecumenical Patriarch Vartholomaios, which climax in religious services in surviving Greek Orthodox churches, have begun to attract political attention. The number of pilgrims from Greece, the USA and Europe is growing, and the religious ceremonies are broadcast by television and satellite. The Turkish media cover the events, which they call «religious tourism,» because they get things moving and create an friendly atmosphere, captured here in Nikos Manginas’s photographs during the patriarch’s recent visits to Sinasso and Prokopi in Cappadocia. At the church of Aghios Constantinos in Sinasso, Vartholomaios spoke of how the «memory of the past and the prospect of the future» had to coexist. Kathimerini English Edition reported his speech on Wednesday: «Patriarch: Tolerance is lacking.» At a round-table discussion in Sinasso, attended by Turkish professors and former minister Lutfi Dogan, the patriarch referred to the declining number of Greeks in Istanbul, his own birthplace Imvros, and of the fewer Assyrian Catholics in southeastern Turkey. As to whether the Halki Theological School will go into operation again, the former Turkish minister of state and former head of the religious affairs directorate for the Turkish government said: «The Christians in our country must be able to train their clergy, as we have our religious seminaries. My conscience won’t allow them not to have this opportunity.» The patriarch set out for Aghios Voukolos in Smyrna, the only Greek Orthodox church to survive the Asia Minor catastrophe of 1922. Named after Voukolos, the first bishop of Smyrna, it is in the center of the city, in an area called Basmane. The church was built over an ancient temple. Until 1955, there were ancient statues and columns scattered around the grounds, and the interior had frescoes of which traces still remain. Talking about the church on her visit to the Foreign Ministry headquarters, Christina Alexopoulou, Greek consul in Smyrna, told Helbi: «It may be restored and used again by the small but close-knit Greek community.» Turkish officials, Greek consular officials and NATO officials from the Smyrna headquarters were invited to celebrate Easter in the Greek style. The religious service, held by a priest the patriarch sent from Patmos, was at the Protestant church that the Dutch had handed over to the Greek Consulate in 1953 for 99 years, for the symbolic price of one pound. The church is called Aghia Fotini, in memory of the cathedral that was burnt and dynamited to the ground in 1922. The Smyrna Union in Athens has undertaken the task of restoring the church of Aghios Voukolos. Sponsors from Greece and the Greek diaspora are needed to help Smyrna, once of the many churches, regain its Orthodox church.

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