“Orthodox Christian volunteer workers say that beneath the surface of the four-day [papal] visit was a hard struggle with Turkish authorities.” What a surprise. From Compass Direct:
December 8 (Compass Direct News) — Pope Benedict XVI is still soaking up the success of last week’s historic trip to Turkey, but Orthodox Christian volunteer workers say that beneath the surface of the four-day visit was a hard struggle with Turkish authorities.
During Benedict’s visit last week, they said, the Turkish Press Ministry tried to shut down the Holy See Ecumenical Patriarchate press office at least four times, once succeding in temporarily closing it. Metropolitans and other church officials were also forced to give up their passports or other identification papers at security checkpoints, and local Christians were shut out from the historic November 30 meeting between Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew and Benedict. “My personal outrage from this is because I believe in freedom of religion and the press,” said Father Alex Karloutsos, communications assistant for Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew during Benedict’s trip. “It was evident in Turkey that there was neither.”
An official from the Turkish Press Ministry who declined to give her name denied that the Patriarchate’s press office was ever shut down.
“It wasn’t closed down, would something like that happen?” she said. “They were at the hotel for several days and nothing like that happened.”
Fr. Karloutsos had a front-row seat to many of the events during the papal visit, both on and off camera. But the most frustrating event, he said, was seeing Christian pilgrims denied entry to the patriarchate to attend the Feast of St. Andrew, in which Benedict was Bartholomew’s guest of honor.
When Christian pilgrims came to the walled-off patriarchate, Turkish security forces turned many of them away. Refusing to recognize their invitations to attend the liturgy, police told them that they needed a pass from Turkish authorities and required them to surrender their passports or other identification, he said.
“The police were grabbing their passes off their necks forcibly and told them they weren’t allowed to come into the church like this,” said Fr. Karloutsos. “The faithful in Istanbul were not allowed to go to their own church.”
Getting to the patriarchate was a challenge in itself. Elderly metropolitans and other attendees to the Feast of St. Andrew had to walk as far as three miles to get there, due to closed roads from the enormous security blockade surrounding Benedict’s visit.
The walk took as long as an hour, and some metropolitans arrived “completely exhausted,” he said.
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