Antalya Reflections

Greetings from Antalya, Turkey

The mosque is just ouside our window, across the street from our hotel, the Best Western Khan in Antalya. That means we get a free wake-up call – the ezan or Muslim call to prayer,

The muezzin, equivalent of a cantor, here at this mosque, is really quite good. They are trained to “recite” the call to prayer in a resonant chant in order to allow his voice to be heard from the minaret tower unaided. Today, of course, there are amplifiers and loudspeakers, but the chant must still be done “live” each time. Throughout Turkey, and indeed all Muslim countries, the actual performance of the call to prayer can range from magnificent (and inspiring) to dreadful.

Most of us Pilgrims in Turkey quickly get used to – and come to enjoy – the five-times-a-day call to prayer, although the one at the “first light” of dawn, more than an hour before sunrise, can be a bit jarring. Here’s an English translation of what’s being sung:

God is Great
There is no god but God
Muhammed is the Prophet of God
Come to prayer
Come to salvation
God is Great
There is no god but God

The call before dawn, to awaken the faithful for prayer, fittingly adds the line, “Prayer is better than sleep.”

For us Pilgrims, here to visit places significant to our Christian heritage in a country that’s 99% Muslim, this call to prayer can have several meanings. At one level, it’s simply a part of the the local color – the cultural and religious environment. When we hear the call to prayer we are shaken out of our western Catholic cultural chauvinism, to realize that there are nearly as many Muslims in the world as there are Catholics (both are estimated at between about 1.2 and 1.5 billion, depending on what source you read. It’s so important for us to try to learn about and understand one another rather than hate and fear one another.

And that understanding has to begin with “us”; we can’t wait for “them” to do it.

The second thing that the call to prayer can do for us Catholics is to recall our own tradition of prayer. From the earliest days after Christ, our ancestors in faith recognized the importance of disciplined prayer, several times a day. Communities of monks as well as priests and laity observed five (or sometimes nine) distinct times for prayers, usually consisting of psalms, scripture readings and hymns. During the Middle Ages in the West, church bells rang out three times every day, calling all the faithful wherever they were to stop their work and pray the Angelus.

If you love someone who loves you, you’re going to pay attention to them. To build and maintain a relationship with someone you love, you must tell them you love them, and tell them often. That’s what the call to prayer reminds us: stop for a moment, and speak with God in love.

Today (Tuesday, April 9) we celebrated Mass at the Garden of Tolerance, a few miles outside Antalya. It’s a small, peaceful park, just off a busy highway, that has a small mosque, synagogue and Christian church built in a modern style around a central fountain. Opened in 2004 under the auspices of the Turkish government and local businesses, and open to people of all faiths, it’s a small sign of hope in a hopelessly divided and antagonistic world for people to come together to promote understanding and acceptance among people of diverse cultures and beliefs.

I love you, and we are all praying for you. Please keep us Pilgrims in your prayers.


About Fr. Tom Welbers

I have been a Catholic priest for nearly fifty years, most of that time serving in parish and college campus ministry. I also have professional degrees in theology and liturgy, as well as institutional management, and continue avidly to explore pastoral theology, Scripture, liturgy, ecumenical and interfaith relations, and spiritual direction. I have sought always to be a faithful pastor - the word means "shepherd" of God's people. As a pastor, I have a passion for sharing insight into our Christian heritage through teaching, writing, and leading pilgrimages, especially to Early Christian World sites in Turkey - hence the title "Pilgrim Shepherd." Now actively retired from parish ministry, but not from pastoral ministry, I live at Nazareth House in Los Angeles.
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