Wednesday, April 27, was our introduction to the Pilgrimage in general and Istanbul in particular, as well as the 43rd anniversary of my ordination to the priesthood. First, we climbed the Galata Tower, with its unsurpassed panoramic view of the whole of Istanbul. Then we are visited the Hipodrome and the "Blue Mosque" (properly the Sultanamet Mosque), the Museum of Turkish and Islamic Art, and the majestic old Church of Hagia Sophia. After lunch, we'll went to the delightful but very informative Miniaturk Park, where we walked among replicas of many of the sites we will visit in the coming weeks. We finished the afternoon with a relaxed, private cruise up a portion of the Bosphorus, with magnificent sea views of Istanbul. The boat had an inside cabin with refreshments, which was especially welcome because it was chilly and rainy, sand we were quite tired after an active day of walking.
The day concluded with Mass at the Cathedral of Saint-Esprit, presided by Fr. John Beckley, a Marist priest from Wheeling, WV who is with us on the Pilgrimage. We celebrated the feast of St. Peter Chanel, great missionary priest of the Marist order. In his homily, Fr. John drew lessons from his life. This is the first time we have another priest on the Pilgrimage.
After a damp and chilly morning, and a five-hour drive we arrived at the memorial of the WWI battle of Galipoli, an important moment of shaping the world of the 20th century. We toured under partly sunny skies and mild temperatures. You can read the details on the internet, but it is an important reminder to us of the need for understanding on all sides. At the cemetery, we offered a prayer for all who have died in wars and battles, and continued our prayer for understanding among peoples. Promoting this kind of understanding is one of the goals of this Pilgrimage, that we may learn to give up narrow self interest and together seek the common good of all humankind.
Then on a ferry across the Dardenelles to Troy, site of the famous ancient battle. After exploring the various layers and periods of the excavations, we drove to the Tusan Hotel for the night.
Today, Friday morning we followed the "footsteps" of St. Paul, in the portion of his final journey towards Jerusalem, from Alexandria Troas to Assos. This story, in Acts 20:1-15, includes the story of the youth, Eutychus falling asleep during Paul's long homily, falling from a third story window, dying from the fall, and being raised back to life. While his companions traveled by ship to Assos, Paul went overland, as did we, though in a comfy bus rather than on foot.
At Alexandria Troas, were treated to a private tour of'excavations in progress that are not yet open to the public, and the vast extent of the yet-to-be-uncovered ruins of a city that may have had 250,000 inhabitants in Paul's time. We took narrow back roads to Assos, getting a view of Turkish rural life with many flocks of sheep, fields, olive groves and tiny villages. In Athos we hiked to the top of the Acropolis, crowned with the Doric columns of the Temple of Athena, and boast in a fantastic 360+-degree view of the Aegean Sea, the Greek Island of Mitilini (Lesbos), and the surrounding countryside.
From Assos, Paul and his companions sailed to Miletus, where he gathered the leaders of the churches of Ephesus and the whole surrounding region, where he gave them a moving farewell address (Acts 20:16-38). Since we are not going to visit Miletus, we also reflected on these words.
On the way to Pergamon (Bergama), this being Friday the day when observant Muslims go'to the mosque for noonday prayer, we stopped at a mosque along the way for Aydin to go to a local mosque for prayer. Meanwhile, we Pilgrims prayed on the bus: while Aydin was praying for us and our Pilgrimage, we were reflecting on St. Paul and praying for him and the people of Turkey as well. For me respecting Aydin's religious commitment, as well as his sincere respect for ours, is also an important aspect of our Pilgrimage experience.
In Pergamon, we took a delightful short ride on the brand new aerial tramway to the Acropolis. (It was being built when we were here last year.) This is the site of the Altar of Zeus, which is probably the "throne of Satan" of the Book of Revelation (Rev 2:13). Today it's a flat area with three pine trees; the altar itself was taken piece by piece to Berlin and reconstructed there. At this site we read and reflected on the Letter to the Angel of the Church of Pergamon (Rev 2:12-17), and prayed that the Lord would protect us and all those we carry in our hearts (that's you too!) from all the forces of evil, symbolically represented by the "throne of Satan."
We then got to the Asclepion five minutes before closing time, 4:55 pm. This shrine of the god of healing, Asclepius, is'a complex containing a temple, theater, and various rooms and areas for ancient therapy. The famous physician Galen began and developed his career here.
We finished the day driving to Izmir for dinner and the night at the Kaya Hotel.
Saturday morning began a little later -- we got to sleep until 7:00 am! After breakfast we walked the short distance from the downtown hotel for Mass at the Church of St. Polycarp, an elaborately decorated and frequently restored 18th-century Italian building. We then drove to Sardis, and reflect and saw in the Temple of Artemis as well as the gymnasium and synagogue complex many e hoes of our early Christian heritage, including the echo, in the Book of Revelation's warning to the Church of Sardis that Jesus will come like a "thief in the night," of the ancientconquest of Sardis by the Persians. After driving back to Izmir for a wonderful fish lunch and a brief tour of the agora of ancient Smyrna, we drove to Kusadasi fr a good night's sleep to get ready for our intense exploration of Ephesus tomorrow.
Sunday we got up a little extra early to get to the entrance to the ancient city right at the 8:00 am opening time. The usual tour of the ancient city of Ephesus is an hour-long downhill route that takes in the "Curetes" street, the Library of Celsus, and the theater, ending up at the long row of souvenir shops (some displaying the disarmingly honest sign,"Genuine Fake Watches"!) and the waiting bus. We spent four hours, beginning with a hike up the side of Mount Nightingale to visit the Grotto of St. Paul and Thekla, a recent discovery that is still being studied, and where tourizts are not allowed. This has been a very special part of our Pilgrimage for the past four years because Aydin has gone out of his way to secure permission from the University of Vienna, which is studying the site. Each year the key has been flown from Vienna to the Ephesus Museum, and a cur a tor personally escorts us to the site. This just one of the things that makes our Early Christian Work Pilgrimage unique. Nearby are the remains of the "Double Church" of the Theotokos (Mother of God), where the Council of Ephesus was held in 431. After lunch and fashion show (and, for some, a shopping-spree) in a leather factory showroom, we visited the burial place and Basilica of St. John the Evangelist and the famous EphesusMuseum, with life-size statues of the goddess Artemis and the delightful miniature of the boy Eros riding a dolphin. We concluded the day at the famous house of the Blessed Virgin Mary, a site revered by Catholics and Muslims alike. We were warmly welcomed by Fr. Paolo, a delightful Capuchin Fanciscan priest from Rome is a member of the community that care a for the site. We were privileged to celebrate Mass in their private chapel, which has been enlarged to accommodate moderate-sized Pilgrim groups.
Early Monday, we set out for the elegant restored site of Aphrodisias, where there are ruins of a wonderful ancient Byzantine church built over the Temple of Aphrodite. Following an outdoor lunch at the rustic Doga Restauant, we drove another hour or so to Hierapolis. It is also known as Pamukkale (cotton castle), named for the magnificent travertine formations deposited by the hot mineral water cascading down the hillside. We were too late to hike up to the Martyrion of Philip, but we could view it from the pools below, and I spoke of its significance. We had time for a relaxing soak in the hot mineral pool at the hotel followed a nice dinner.
On Tuesday, we started by driving by the nearby sites of Laodicea and Colossae, and I was able to speak at some length about their significance in both the life and writing of St. Paul and St. John. On the lengthy drive to Pisidian Antioch, I spoke at some length about Paul's birthplace (probably Gischala in Galilee rather than Tarsus where he grew up), and its significance for Paul's life and faith. I cannot go into depth about this here, but it will be the topic of some of my classes during the summer, which I will record and put on the parish or the Pilgrimage website. Stay tuned. Aydin also spoke at length about the final speech of Muhammad and its significance today, as well as the conflicts and rivalries among Muslim countries today, as well as the roles of France and America. Complex stuff, and so poorly understood by many who see things only in black and white.
After our tour of Pisidian Antioch, we drove to Konya (ancient Iconium) and, following dinner, experienced a private performance of the "sema" of the Whirling Dervishes, followed by an explanation by the Sufi master who is the leader of this particular group.
These have been long and full days, but all the Pilgrims are in good spirits and seem energized even if tired. Thank you for your prayers, and be assured of ours.
Fr. Tom Welbers