Friday, February 27, 2009
Just a few notes before I start todays column.

Among the EWTN employees who are participating in a Lenten retreat today in Birmingham are my colleagues in the web development and Online Services office who have the often daily task of posting photos on Joans Rome. They are the people who make me look good, adding this work to the myriad other tasks they perform for the EWTN web pages. Because new photos cannot be added today to this column, I will leave yesterdays column up for the weekend and will return Monday with new adventures in and new photos from Turkey.

On my weekend radio show, Vatican Insider, my guest on the interview segment this week is Alan Solow, a lawyer from Chicago and the chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. Sixty members of the Conference met February 12 in the Vatican with Pope Benedict. Mr. Solow, in Rome with his wife Andrea, was one of two people to address the Pope, the other being Rabbi Schneier, who received the Holy Father at Park East Synagogue in New York during his visit last April.

As you probably know, you can access this show from anywhere in the world via computer, by going to www.ewtn.com, clicking on RADIO, and then on Listen Live Do this Saturday mornings at 9:30 a.m. (ET) and Sundays, when the show re-airs at 4:30 p.m. (ET). Should you miss the show, you can always find it in the Archives by going to: http://www.ewtn.com/vondemand/audio/seriessearchprog.asp?seriesID=7096&T1=

And now to a few news stories before returning to Ephesus where we visit Marys Church and the basilica of St. John.


Basilian Father Thomas Rosica was appointed Thursday by Pope Benedict as a consultor of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications. Father Rosica is the founder and CEO of Salt and Light Catholic Media Foundation and Television Network in Canada. Born in 1959 in Rochester, New York, he was ordained to the priesthood in 1986. He holds dual citizenship in the U.S. and Canada. Fr. Rosica is a Scripture scholar and has served on the General Council of the Congregation of Priests of St. Basil since July, 2006. He was pastor and executive director of the Newman Center Catholic Mission at the University of Toronto from 1994-2000, before being named national director and CEO of World Youth Day 2002 and the papal visit to Canada. He began Salt and Light Television in July, 2003. In October 2008, he served as the English Language Media Attach of the Synod of Bishops at the Vatican.

I was privileged to spend some quality time with Father Rosica last fall during the Synod. In an email exchange with me about his appointment, Father said "It is a privilege to serve the Universal Church through the important work of the Council for Social Communications. We have all seen the great challenges and potential for good communications at all levels of the Church, especially over the past month. This appointment is a tribute to and responsibility given to the Church in Canada, to all of the young adults working with me at Canada's first national, Catholic television network, and to those generous benefactors who have made this project of the new evangelization possible in Canada. I am grateful to Pope Benedict XVI and to those at the Pontifical Council for Social Communications in Rome for their encouragement, trust and confidence."


Thursday afternoon the Vatican released the final declaration from the annual meeting of the Joint Committee for Dialogue of the Pontifical Council for Inter-religious dialogue (the Vatican) and the Permanent Committee of Al-Azhar University for Dialogue Among the Monotheistic Religions (Cairo, Egypt). The joint committee, established in 1998, met at the Vatican this week. Members affirmed the duty of all religious leaders to promote peace and to ensure that young believers are "protected from fanaticism and violence." They said peace is "a gift from God and, at the same time, the fruit of human endeavor," which must be promoted by religious preaching and teaching.

Committee sessions were co-chaired by Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, president of the Pontifical Council for Inter-religious Dialogue, and by Sheikh Ali Abd al-Baqi Shahata, secretary general of the Academy for Islamic Research at al-Azhar. The theme for this session, presented from both a Catholic and an Islamic point of view, was The Promotion of a Pedagogy and Culture of Peace with Particular Reference to the Role of Religions.

The discussions, said the statement, took place in a spirit of mutual respect, openness, and friendship and were inspired by the conviction of the importance of good relations between Christians and Muslims and of their specific contribution to peace in the world. Participants agreed that a culture of peace should permeate all aspects of life: religious formation, education, interpersonal relations and the arts in their diverse forms. To this end, scholastic books should be revised in order not to contain material which may offend the religious sentiments of other believers, at times through the erroneous presentation of dogmas, morals or history of other religions. The media, they wrote, have a major role and responsibility in the promotion of positive and respectful relations among the faithful of various religions.


Thursday Pope Benedict held the traditional meeting at the beginning of Lent with the clergy of Rome. It took the form of a dialogue between the Holy Father and the priests as the Pope, in unprepared remarks, answered questions put to him by the clergy concerning such matters as the world economic crisis, the formation of priests, evangelization, the educational emergency, the value of the liturgy and Vatican Council II. To one priest who spoke of the economic difficulties of families in his parish, the Pope said the Church has the duty to present a reasonable and well-argued criticism of the errors that have led to the current economic crisis. This duty, he said, forms part of the Church's mission and must be exercised firmly and courageously, avoiding moralizing but explaining matters using concrete reasons that may be understood by everyone. He spoke of his forthcoming social Encyclical and presented a synthetic overview of the crisis, analyzing it at two levels, examining both the macro- and micro-economic aspects.

Turning his attention to the question of evangelization among people who have moved away from the faith, Pope Benedict said what we need are priests and catechists who have cultural training, but above all who are capable of speaking to modern man with the simplicity of truth, in order to show people that God is not, in fact, some distant being but a person Who talks and acts in the lives of all human beings.

Asked about the mission of the Bishop of Rome, the Holy Father explained it is a guarantee of the universality of the Church. The Church does not identify with any particular culture because it transcends nationalism and frontiers to welcome all peoples, respecting their own particular richness and characteristics. On the subject of the liturgy, the Pope commented that it is like a school in which to learn the art of being human and to experience familiarity with Christ. The Eucharist in particular must be lived as a sign and seed of charity, he said.

To a final question about the educational emergency, Benedict XVI indicated that what is lacking today is a shared view of the world, an ethical orientation that keeps man from falling prey to arbitrariness. Thus, while faith remains open to all cultures, it is also their criterion for discernment and guidance.


Shortly after noon on Friday, in the Clementine Hall, the Pope received members of the Belgian associations Pro Petri Sede and Etrennes Pontificales, both of which offer annual financial aid for the needs of the Holy See. Pro Petri Sede is Latin meaning for the See of Peter. Etrennes pontificales is French for pontifical gifts or pontifical monies "The Pauline Year," said the Holy Father, addressing the group in French, "by meditating on the words of the Apostle of the Gentiles, enables us to become aware of the fact that the Church is a Body pulsating with a single life, the life of Jesus. Hence, each member of the ecclesial body is profoundly bonded to all the others and cannot ignore their needs. Nourished by the same Eucharistic bread, the baptized cannot remain indifferent when bread is lacking from the tables of fellow human beings."

"This year," he continued, "you have once again responded to the call to open your hearts to the needs of the disinherited, so that those members of Christ's Body suffering poverty may be helped and thus enabled to live better lives and be freer to bear witness to the Good News. Entrusting the fruit of your savings to Peter's Successor," said Benedict XVI, "you enable him to carry out real and active charity, the sign of his solicitude for all Churches, for all the baptized, for all human beings. I thank you from the bottom of my heart in the name of the people whom your generosity will help as they struggle against the evils that threaten their dignity. If we fight against all forms of poverty we give peace more chance to come and take root in our hearts."


On the first day of our pilgrimage in the steps of St. Paul, following Mass at Marys house high above the ruins of the once-glorious city of Ephesus, and a long and wondrous morning walking through those ruins and learning about the history of this capital of Asia Minor, we visited the nearby site of Marys Church.

Located next to what was once the harbor of Ephesus thus, near to where St. Paul arrived from or left for other parts of the world on his long journeys - the church is known as Meryem Kiliesi in Turkish. It has also been called the Double Church, so-named, says a legend, because one aisle was dedicated to the Virgin Mary and the other to St. John. Most notably, however, Marys Church has been called the Council Church because the Council of Ephesus took place within its walls in 431. This was the ecumenical council that declared Mary to be Theotokos, Bearer of God, thus Mother of God.

It seems that Marys Church was built in the early fifth century and was, say some, built specifically for the Council of Ephesus in 431. It was built over the ruins of a second century Roman building which probably had a secular function, especially since it was near the harbor where there was great commerce - and was a huge classical church with pillars and was said to be 260 meters in length. It also had a baptistery. Council reports called this church the center of Christianity. According to Austrian archeologists, the church was expanded about 500 into a massive cathedral whose apse and pillars can be partially seen here. It was the see of the bishop of Ephesus until late antiquity

Marys Church was our last visit of the morning actually early afternoon after which we went to the nearby town of Camlik for lunch at a very interesting placed called Le Train, a fairly new restaurant at the Camlik Steam Locomotive Museum. Camlik is about six miles from Seluk which is a town in the province of Izmir (where our plane landed from Istanbul only a day earlier), so named for the Seljuk (with a j)Turks who occuped the area in the 13th century. Seluk is where Ephesus and Marys House are located and the three names are often used interchangeably unless, of course, you are a resident of the town of Seluk.

I have to add something rather interesting here. At 6:20 p.m. Turkish time (5:20 in Rome) I sent an email to Alp, our guide last week, saying that if by some extraordinary miracle he was reading email, could he confirm the name and place of the restaurant we ate at our first day on the road. Just now, 30 minutes later, I got an answer. How amazing is this world we live in!

After our wonderful lunch served on some of the most beautiful ceramic plates I have ever seen we went to St. Johns Basilica on Ayasuluk Hill in Seluk.

This amazing church was built in the sixth century A.D. by Emperor Justinian I over the supposed site of the apostle's tomb, shown here.

Flavius Petrus Sabbatius Iustinianus, known as Justinian I, became emperor of the Eastern Roman Empire, or Byzantine Empire, in 527. In his 38 astonishing years as emperor, Justinian was known, among many other things, as a builder, He had Hagia Sofia rebuilt in Constantinople (now Istanbul) after a fire and ordered the basilica of St. John to be built in Ephesus over the site of an earlier church, said to be built over the necropolis in which, says legend, St. John is buried.

The basilica lies just below the fortress of Ayasoluk Hill, about two miles from ancient Ephesus. It fell into ruins with the decline of Ephesus and was converted into a mosque in 1330. It was completed destroyed by a Mongol army led by Tamerlane. You can see the fortress through the arches in this photo.

It is estimated that if it could be fully restored (some of the brick foundations and marble walls have been partially reconstructed), it would be the seventh largest cathedral in the world. A cruciform with six giant domes, this is what the basilica would have looked like.

Here are further photos to give you an idea of the vastness of this church. Notice the mosque in the third photo. The call to prayer came as we were at St. Johns tomb.

Seluk Castle, a Byzantine structure, overlooks the basilica of St. John. Within its walls - whose perimeter measures just over one mile - are a church, a mosque, and a number of cisterns. You can see the castle over my shoulder in this photo.

There were no readings for our group in the afternoon but I thought you might be interested to read about the death of St. John as recounted in the 13th century medieval source book about the lives of saints called the Golden Legend. Complied by Jacobus de Voragine it was at times the most-printed book in Europe:

According to Isidore, when John was 98 years old, that is, in the 67th year after the Lord's passion, the Lord appeared to him with his disciples and said: 'Come to me, my beloved: it is time for you to feast at my table with your brothers!' John rose and was about to go, when the Lord added: 'You will come to me on Sunday.'

When Sunday arrived, all the people gathered in the church that had been built in his name, and John preached to them at cockcrow, exhorting them to be steadfast in the faith, and zealous in carrying out the commandments of God. Then he had them dig a square grave near the altar and throw the earth outside the church.

He went down into the grave and, with arms outstretched to God, said: 'Lord Jesus Christ, you have called me to your feast: here I am, and I thank you for deigning to invite me to your table. You know that I have longed for you with all my heart!' When he had said this, he was surrounded by a light so brilliant that he was lost to human sight. Then, when the light faded, the grave was found to be full of manna. This manna is still produced there to this day, and it covers the floor of the grave, looking rather like the fine grains of sand at the bottom of a spring.

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