The Real Reason for the Pope’s Visit to Turkey


The Real Reason for the Pope’s Visit to Turkey

Media reports largely missed the true significance of Benedict XVI’s trip to this Muslim nation.

It certainly was the major international news event of the week. Every leading newspaper carried it on their front page on either one day or the other. All followed it with daily progress reports. Pope Benedict xvi’s four-day visit to Turkey had journalists clamoring for a unique edge to their commentaries.

Most followed the line that this was Benedict’s classic opportunity to mend the fences with Islam following his now infamous September speech delivered at his old university in Regensburg, Germany, where he publicized disparaging remarks about Muhammad made by a 14th-century Byzantine emperor. Some homed in on the prospects of Vatican support for the accession of Muslim Turkey to the Catholic club of the European Union.

The most astute, however, saw the visit for what it was always designed by Benedict to be—an overt ecumenical move to accelerate the Vatican’s efforts to draw the Eastern Orthodox Church back into the fold following the schism that split the Eastern Church from Rome in 1054.

Our Cyprus correspondent, Dr. James Leigh, contrasted the general Western media perspective on the pope’s visit to Turkey with a more Mediterranean view: “Greek media, especially tv, have given this mass coverage and full live coverage of various high-profile events with megastar status for the venerable, noble, warrior-leader of Catholicism. What a brilliant move for the pope and Vatican—a real king hit! He visits Turkey and, in a real Catholic affront (done so elegantly) to this Islamic nation, by so doing gives recognition to the Patriarch Bartholomew as the leader of all Orthodoxy, a status which the Turkish government does not even begin to recognize. They only recognize him as the leader of a pitiful small 3,000 or so Orthodox faithful in Turkey.”

Never has Eastern Orthodoxy, linking with Roman Catholicism, been given such a wide media exposure—and it all emanated from within an overwhelmingly Islamic nation! This was a masterful media coup for the pope’s promotion of his ecumenical efforts.

Both politics and religion were in play in Turkey last week. The Vatican, Eastern Orthodoxy, the European Union and the Islamic nation of Turkey were the main players. It cannot be by accident that, during the same week as the pope’s visit to Constantinople, the EU announced yet another setback to Turkey’s efforts for membership. “The European Commission on Wednesday recommended that some elements of the talks with Turkey should be frozen until Ankara opens its ports to Cyprus. … Turkey’s refusal to recognize Cyprus is a key obstacle to its membership bid” (bbc, November 30).

In a tit-for-tat response, Turkey immediately withdrew an earlier offer to return property it had previously seized from the Orthodox Church. This after the first day of the pope’s visit!

One can’t ignore the fact that, despite Benedict’s personally denying it, politics and religion clearly, and quite deliberately, intersected his visit to Turkey. As James Leigh observes, “The pope clearly established the moral high ground by appearing to be conciliatory to Islam without giving any concessions. Strangely, Turkish Prime Minister [Recep Tayyip] Erdogan, following his meeting the pope at [the Ankara] airport, declared that Benedict supports Turkey’s entry into the EU. Mindful of Benedict’s past statements, stridently denying that Islamic Turkey had any prospect of entering the Catholic community of the EU, some Turkish media accused their nation’s leader of lying. Erdogan’s startling statement has been largely refuted indirectly by subsequent official comments coming out of the Vatican.”

Benedict’s visit to Turkey was consummated with a joint statement signed by both the pope and the Orthodox patriarch. The document confirmed their definite commitment and continuing cooperation to work toward full unification between the Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic faiths. That was the real intention of this papal visit.

Despite all media misrepresentation to the contrary, Benedict got exactly what he had intended to get from his visit—and, courtesy of the mass media, the public got the pictures that the pope intended they should. His image as a bridge builder between cultures was enhanced in the public eye, and his audience became further conditioned to the inevitability of ultimate reunion between Orthodox and Catholic faiths.

This was, plainly, one more step toward the inevitable. A very public step, given all the more publicity because of the pope’s denouncement of the religion of Muhammad at Regensburg last September. Clearly Turkey gained nothing from this visit. The gain from both the political and religious standpoints—most certainly from a public relations perspective—was patently Rome’s.

Once again, one must hand it to the subtly clever diplomacy of Benedict xvi. However, the outcome to this historic visit of Pope Benedict to the old eastern capital of the Holy Roman Empire was no real surprise to the Trumpet staff. We had already predicted the positive outcome in Rome’s favor.

There is a clear reason why.

It’s not that we are particularly clever at predicting the future. It’s simply because our guide in the analysis of world affairs is one who went before us, a man of such startling vision that he could look ahead, way beyond his day, and see the inevitable, sure outcome of the events of history and the current world events that surrounded him. Though he died fully 20 years ago, Herbert W. Armstrong’s visionary perspective on the times through which we are presently living remains our sure guide in our analysis of world affairs for the Trumpet magazine. That vision is proving to be, daily, a remarkably prophetic guide to the unfolding state of the new global world order.

Take Mr. Armstrong’s vision on the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches as a case in point: “The uprising against Soviet domination in Poland can easily lead to Poland, and such Eastern European nations as Romania, Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia and even Greece, joining in a union with Roman Catholic nations in Western Europe. The Eastern Orthodox Catholic Church could join with the Roman Catholic” (co-worker letter, May 20, 1982).

The first part of that prophecy was fulfilled largely as a result of Pope John Paul ii’s backing of the Solidarity movement in Poland during the 1980s. It was neatly finished off with the Balkan wars fueled by Germany and the Vatican in the 1990s.

The second part of that prediction made by Herbert Armstrong fully 25 years ago was, this past week, in play at center arena in Constantinople!

Six months after he wrote the observation above, Mr. Armstrong wrote again to his co-workers: “The Catholic Church is divided between the Roman Catholic Church in the west and the Greek Orthodox Church in the east. The latter has strenuously objected to supremacy of the pope, and to the doctrine of papal infallibility. But on this trip we learned in Athens that the Eastern Orthodox Church at last is willing to give in on papal leadership, though not yet in agreement on infallibility. I feel sure some compromise or agreement will be reached very soon” (Nov. 22, 1982).

Ahead of his time Mr. Armstrong may have been. But his understanding of the way that the prophecies of the Bible would play out in world affairs was startlingly accurate!

Watch for Rome’s wayward Orthodox daughters to make their way home to Rome in the very near future.