The calendars would write “Year 1900” when three French Catholic monks of the African Mission would arrive for the first time in Samos Island, a remoted island of the Eastern Aegean Sea, near Turkey. Shortly thereafter, the White Fathers, as they were called, would establish their monastic community and parish in the Vathy area of Samos.
The Catholic Parish Assumption of the Blessed Virgin or “Fragoklissia” would serve in the early 1900s a small community of Catholics, which would outnumber about 80 people. Over the years, the Catholic community would begin to flourish in favor of the commercial links and of the consulates of the Catholic doctrine that were being hosted by the island.
On March 19th, 1901, the French School of Saint Joseph would open its doors. Until the end of their presence on the island, on June 28th, 1971, St. Joseph’s nuns wouldl host and offer a high level of education to hundreds of children coming from the cities and villages of Samos, the rest of the Aegean Sea’s islands and of Athens. Famous for their charity work to all people without discrimination, they would offer a great relief to the children of the Armenian refugees in 1920 and to all the inhabitants of the island during the Second World War.
The life for the Catholic Parish would continue until the early 1970s. The monks would buy large areas of land to create the catholic cemetery, its chapel, but also to cultivate vines for the production of special wine for the celebration of Divine Liturgy and the Eucharist.
In 1970, the last French monk, Francis Gagiou, would return to France and shortly before leaving, he would sell the property of the monastic community to two families in Samos. Since then, the main building that houses the temple and an attic will belong to the Catholic parish. Gagiou would be honored by the Municipality of Samos island for his offer and services to the local community. The monk would be followed by the Saint Joseph nuns and everything showed that the end of the Catholic community had been reached.
The citizens of Samos would rejoice with great regret the monk and the nuns knowing that this meant the end of a rich cultural and tolerant society that brought great spiritual development to the place.
“Until today, older people are moved when they remember the farewell to the nuns, or when they remember their daily lives while passing by the Catholic Church,” says the current subdeacon of the Catholic parish of Samos, Mr Marios Foscolos who helped us during the research for the Catholic parish and the catholic community of Samos.
The revival and future of the community
The building of the parish was renovated in 2000, giving a new hope to the Catholic community and the island. In 2017, the Catholic community outnumbers about 200 people of all ages.
“We are constantly finding new people that we did not know that they existed and were not recorded anywhere,” says Marios Foskolos.
The main feature of the island’s catholic community is that it does not consist exclusively of Greeks but has also a huge percentage of Italians, Polish, Belgians, Albanians and other nationalities. Recently, Samos would welcome 45 Catholic French-speaking refugees from places such as Cameroon, Congo and North African states.
“With the refugee flows, our flock has Been increased and we are called upon to meet its needs and to stand next to it. Our goal is to embrace refugees and to integrate them into our community. The mass continues in the Greek language according to the regulations of the Second Vatican Council, where the Latin is abolished and the mass is done in the national language of each country. However, they are being offered the opportunity to chant some hymns in French and read some extracts from the New Testament in French in order to feel intimate and fully integrated.”
In Samos the Catholic families are scattered on the island. There are families in all places, in Vathi, in Karlovasi, in Platanos or in Marathokampos. Unlike other Catholic doctrines, Greek Catholics of Samos make mixed marriages with Orthodox Christians without any problem.
“The catholic community of Samos has the happiness of being composed of all ages and especially of new ages. May all of her members not be extremely active but that does not mean that its optimistic future will stop. Indeed, there is a young Samiot who is in the second year of the sanctuary, without of course knowing if he is going return. In any case, we believe that the future is hopeful.”
Opening its doors
“It has been the right time to change the mindset that the Catholic Church is closed and remote. It was supposed to be open to the world, fearless and with perspective to re-embrace the local community. Coming here from the island of Tinos I thought that the parish should become again an active part of the island’s life.”
The last years, the Catholic parish is open to the public almost all the day. The priest comes twice a month for the mass while some gatherings are being organized in order to empower and encourage the community. During the Holy Week, two concerts of church music were held with works by Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Easter sacred music and others.
“The church was full of people during those two days of concerts. If we had concerts for a a whole week, I’m sure it would be full of people for all these days. Thanks to the concerts, there was a raising of the awareness regarding the existence and the mission of the parish. However, there are still a lot of people who do not know about us and we are trying to communicate our work through the local media.”
The “difficult” charity work
“We are trying to find solutions and resources as people in need hut us the door every day. Our goal is to alleviate the pain of every person. Unfortunately, our capabilities are still too limited in relation to the number of people in need and we are constantly looking for solutions.”
With the aid of Caritas, the global philanthropic organization of the Catholic Church, the Catholic Parish of Samos is trying to increase the number of families (Greeks and refugees) that support financially. Our cooperation with the Catholic parishes of other Greek islands has helped to a great extent the charity work in Samos.
“There have been requests for help mainly on the refugee issue which unfortunately we have not been able to satisfy. This is why we have approached other parishes, such as the parish of Tinos, with whom we have co-operation on charity issues. Generally with all the Catholic parishes and dioceses of the other islands we have created very good relationships and excellent cooperation and mutual assistance.”
Closing the door to the history of the Catholic Parish of Samos at 09.30 in the evening, Mr. Foskolos asked us to remember just one thing:
“The Catholic Parish of Samos is a gem for the island. Many are being moved to the memory of a robust Catholic community and parish. Now the façade of the building is ready to collapse and nothing reminds us of the glory of the past. Unfortunately, the building does not belong to the Catholic parish after 1970 but only to individuals and we would like to emphasize the need to repair it so that Samos does not lose something so precious for its history.”
The House of Mary
1820, Westphalia: Clemens Brentano sits next to her bed. Two years ago he moved to the city of Dülmen in Westphalia to be with her every day. With a notebook in his hands, he keeps notes of her visions, dreams and becomes her personal assistant. The German Romantic poet took the decision to stand next to Anna Katerina Emmerick, a young woman in the countryside who had been stuck for decades in her bed. She herself saw for years visions which concerned the life of the Virgin Mary and Christ and described everything in every detail. Clemens holds detailed notes and in 1835, 11 years after Anna Katerina’s death, he will publish his first book with her visions, “The Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ.” In 1842, after his death, another work with her visions entitled “The Life of Virgin Mary” will be published.
1891: Smyrna French Hospital, Ottoman Empire: Marie de Mandat Grancey, a member of the Daughters of Charity s run by the French Hospital of Smyrna, is dining at the Hospital’s dining room. There she will hear an excerpt from the books with Anna Katerina’s visions and ask two Lazarist missionaries, Fathers Poulin and Jung, to visit the point mentioned in the book as the last house of the Virgin Mary.
They began their mission on July 29, 1891, holding in their hands the excerpt of the book, ready to find every detail. Going to the Sirince area in Ephesus and going up Mount Bülbüldağı (Koressos) will stop asking a woman for water. She will tell them that they can find water a few miles further in the springs of the Monastery. After a few hours they will find themselves in front of the ruins of a monastery and a house where it will fit Anna Katerina’s descriptions. There She lived in the last years of her life, Our Lady, the Mother of Christ after His Crucifixion when she followed St. John. There she lived until the day of the Dormition (according to the Orthodox doctrine) and the Assumption (according to the Catholic doctrine) to Heaven.
The missionaries are returning to announce the news and their discovery. In August 1891, two more “missions” will begin for the place where Mother Mary’s House, Meryem Ana Evi, was discovered. They wanted to be sure they had found the right place.
In 1882, Archbishop Smyrna, Timoni, will visit the site where he will recognize the similarities with Anna Katerina’s narratives and begin the procedures for officially recognizing the part of the Catholic Church. Until then, the place was known as Panagia Kapoulou.
2018: A mini bus begind from Kusadasi and has as destination the location of Meryem Ana Evi, 7 km from Selçuk. An announcement has been made a long time ago so that the Temple Management Association (Dernek) can reserve the bus” for specific times of arrival and departure. Inside the bus, you’ll see a mosaic of tourists keeping their camera tightly, believers holding their rosaries and crosses in hands, women with foulards and the Quran in their bag. Most of them hold tightly the papers that have written their wishes. The desire is usually one: to bring to life the baby. And where else will they ask for it except for Mother Mary?
In 2015, filmmaker Manoël Pénicaud, along with his team, visited Meryem Ana Evi. In his camera he will speak, Paolo Pugliese, Capuchin Friar serving in the Temple. The Order of the Capuchins took over the care and management of the place in 1966, after the invitation of the Archbishop Smyrna, Alfred Cuthbert OFMCap Gumbinger. Sitting in a simple coffee table and wearing the Capuccino brown tunic, Paolo Pugliese will talk about his experience in Turkey.
“Virgin Mary is a woman. The main feature of a woman in every respect is a welcome and motherhood. She is here as a mother and as a woman who welcomes her children, both Christians and Muslims.”
While it’s heavy winter, the camera shows people in jacket and coat coming to pray. Outside the temple, there is the spot where candles light. Christians and Muslims lit their candles side by side with reverence and tranquility. Inside the shrine, Christins and Muslims attend the mass in Italia. Muslim women pay in their knees. At the entrance there is a large sign with extracts from the Qur’an that mention Virgin Mary and emphasize Her significance.
“I touched the paper on the wall and at that moment I realized that until that day I had not understood how much the world suffered. How many misery and needs there have been out there. How many personal tragedies!“The wall is full of papers. “The wall is the connection of the prayers of all these people.”
A few years ago, the New York Times will dedicate a few pages to Meryem Ana Evi. Scott Spencer traveled to Turkey to be able to describe the uniqueness of the place and talk to those who visited it. Friar Matthias will explain to him, “Muslims believe that Mary or Mary was a sacred figure but not the mother of God. She was just a woman with great virtues.”
Friar Matthias will continue explaining to the reporter that Maria is mentioned more than 30 times in the Koran and refers to Surah 3, verse 37. The journalist leaving the church will meet a woman who would open her heart “I live and work in Paris but I was born in Algeria. Since I was a little girl, I believed in miracles. I come here often. I come here because I believe in Maria. I’m a muslim.”
If you ever want to visit Meryem Ana Evi, you can find more information (in five different languages) on their website: http://www.meryemana.info/ and on their Facebook page where they make announcements about the functions and times and ways of visit and masses.
The “mysterious” Jew of Tunisia
33 days after the Jewish Easter. The Jews are preparing to celebrate Lag BaOmer. The Ghriba Synagogue with its Blue Tiles on Djerba Island in Tunisia wears its festivals to welcome its faithful who come from all corners of the world to celebrate Lag BaOmer with the 1100 Jews of the island.
Jews, Christians and Muslims come to the synagogue to pray and light candles. Women sit on the floor to put their eggs there with their wishes written on them. According to the local tradition, the stone of the floor used to be in the Temple of Jerusalem. Outside of the synagogue, the musicians have not stopped playing, the dried figs of wine flow abundantly and all of them eat from a table full of fish and couscous.
The story of the Jewish community
According to the history, a large number of Jews fled to Tunisia after the first temple was destroyed by the Romans, around 500 BC. During this period the first synagogue was built. The Jews brought with them a door from the Temple as well as a stone from the altar of the Temple. Today, according to the residents of the area, both the door and the stone are placed into the “Ghriba” Synagogue.
However, the Sephardic Jews of Spain found shelter on the island of Tunisia after the persecutions suffered by King Ferdinand and Isabella. Until 1956, when Tunisia gained its independence from France, the Jews would count 100,000 of which most would live on Djerba Island in harmony with their Muslim brothers.
In Arabic, Ghriba means “mysterious”, “strange” and many wonder why this name was given to the synagogue. According to the myth that dominates the narratives, the place where the congregation was discovered at the beginning of the 19th century inhabited a young “mysterious” girl who never spoke to anyone on the island. The girl died in her cabin when it grabbed fire. Surprisingly, the Jewish residents found her body intact and, in honor of the “mysterious” girl, founded the “Ghriba” Synagogue in the Jewish village of Harah Seghira.
The Lag BaOmer feast and coexistence
The pilgrimage to Lag BaOmer attracts hundreds of Jews from all over the world. They visit the synagogue, pray and participate in the rites that take place in both days of the feast. The marches are in the form of a wedding ceremony and symbolize the secret union between the People of Israel and the Divine. Women leave eggs with the name of a single girl in the place where the girl’s body is supposed to be found. The festival includes both Jews and Muslims. Muslim neighbors help the Jews prepare the place to welcome all this crowd. They also pray in the Synagogue while Muslim women leave the same eggs with written wishes in Arabic so they can get married in the future.
Muhammad has been making mats for the congregation for 50 years. “The most important thing for us is to show that in Djerba Jews and Muslims can live together harmoniously.”
As many people leave for a nearby beach or casino, the local Jews stay in the Synagogue so they can continue their own local customs: the first haircut of a three-year-old boy or the preparation of a big and specific dinner where the whole community will sit together.
The revenue that comes from the Lag BaOmer feast is enough. All the money is for the Jewish nursing home of the village of Harah Seghira and for the maintenance of the twenty synagogues on the island.
Amal who works in Houmt’s market and goes every year to the Synagogue to worship, says “Everything is to be human. We sit here next to each other and we see no difference. “
Walking through the streets of Djerba you can not recognize the Jew by the Muslim. Only a few older Jews put a piece of black cloth at the bottom of their trousers. Mourning for the destruction of the Temple.
Over the last three decades most visitors come from places outside Tunisia. By 2015, however, Israel issued a directive to Israeli citizens not to travel to Tunisia for the annual pilgrimage for safety reasons.
Earlier in the year, the country had suffered three terrorist attacks by extremist religious organizations. Almost all the attacks were in places an hour away from the island. That year, the security measures for the pilgrimage were draconian with checkpoints all over the island, special forces scattered all over, and military trucks full of guns.
On the first day of the feast, Abdelfattah Mourou, spokesman for the moderate Muslim party Islamic Enhanda, embraced rabbi Bittan outside the synagogue and told the crowd “Tunisia is protecting its Jews. What leads to the extremes is the existence of only one culture and one culture. The existence of many cultures leads us to accept one another normally. “
The Jews of today
Today, 1100 Jews live in Djerba. According to chief rabbi Haim Bittan each year only 30 new births are made to Jewish families. In recent years, Jews have begun to leave the place not because of persecution of a religious or racial nature but because of a financial crisis.
Yisha Mamou, 24, who is a teacher at the Hebrew Kindergarten, says “I graduated economically at public high school but, like most in Tunisia, I did not have the opportunity to continue at the University. I want to leave because I have nothing to do. All I do is go back to work and work on the house. “
Until 2004, the Jewish community of Tunisia supported three elementary schools, two lyceums and a religious study school (yeshiva) as well as archbishop. A few years ago, the only Kosher restaurant was closed, and as the whole Jewish community shows, it will begin to shrink if both their own state and the community itself find ways to keep young people there.
The Muslim Saint of a Greek Orthodox city
The Albanian Bektashi Monastery of Farsala
May 1st 2017: Some hundred meters outside Farsala, in the village of Asprogia, cars start gathering early in the morning. Whole families flock to pilgrimage, take out the spit with lambs, beers freeze on portable refrigerators, and someone puts on the cd player folk dances.
“They say it was Church, they say a lot. I know just one thing. That it was and still is a holy place, “says the pilgrim to the filmmaker Manoël Pénicaud. The Durbali Tekke or otherwise, Ireni Tekke was founded according to sources in 1492. The founder, the Durbali dervish came from the Iconio area of Minor Asia. As soon as he arrived in the village Ireni (the name of the village of Asprogia during the Ottoman domination), was granted the land and the building to create a new worship site, the tekke (monastery of Islamic mysticism and souffism). Also, according to sources, today’s temple was built on the ruins of a Byzantine church dedicated to St. George.
In Manoël Pénicaud’s short film, his “tour guide” will show us a hagiography of Saint George on a wall of the teke. “Saint George is being worshipped everywhere” he will explain. Especially in the Muslim world, the warrior and fighter Saint George has a prominent place. Over the centuries, the teke will be expanded by purchasing land from various villages in the surrounding areas. Many travelers and writers, including Andreas Karkavitsas, a Greek well known novelist(1892), will describe in his experiences the functioning of the teke and its role in the harmonious religious coexistence of Christians and Muslims. Archaeologist Frederick Hasluck will record in 1914 that only twenty years ago, in 1888, there were 55 dervishes living on the teke and that the coexistence of Christians and Muslims was perfectly normal.
The blooming and preservation of the teke will bring about the disruption of the Ottoman Empire and the creation of the Republic of Turkey. Mustafa Kemal Ataturk will declare the Sufi and the Dervishes fraternities illegal and chase them mercilessly. The order of the Ottomans in the administration and in the life of Tekke will be taken over by the Albanians Bektashi. Bektashism was dominant in the Balkans, and especially in Albania, where to date there is a large number of believers. The successors of the teke will keep their reins up until 1973 when the last Albanian abbot of the Monastery dies and the memory will be almost erased
The Tekes today
Few people know the presence of Teke and even fewer locals remember its story. What remains is the mosque of the monastery and the tombs of the abbots. Both the mosque and graves are preserved in a very good condition since Albanians Bektashi i try to rescue them with the help of archaeologists and conservators. The problem of preservation of the teke is due to its legal and ownership status. While belonging to a religious institution in Albania, the Land Office of Larissa is in charge of its management. The various disagreements between the parties and the legal dangers have not so far enabled the use of the amount intended for teke’s maintenance.
In recent years the Farsala Municipality has prioritized teke and its proper maintenance. With the help of experts, the Municipality investigates the violations that occur in the area and proceeds to the complaints so that the image of teke is not distorted and be rescued before it is too late. Nevertheless, the Municipality’s objective is far superior to the mere maintenance of a historical and religious monument. The Municipality sees tekke as the opportunity to create an international center of study of the peoples and religions of the Balkans for the past 5 centuries.
God does not ask what you are
Before they enter the site of funerary monuments, they take off their shoes. Young, older, young children kiss the grave with the green covers. On the outside, the tomb of Durbali Sultan and the bust of Hatzi Bektas Veli, founder of Bektashism, in the 13th century. “Bektas Veli chose the best flowers of the religions and created the Bektashism,” says the old man with redheaded cheeks.
The cinematographer Manoël Pénicaud and his team visited the teke to record these moments of love and sharing on May 2017. I was fortunate to watch his short film at the “Shared Sacred Sites” Exhibition at the Thessaloniki Museum of Photography, in the last January. In a green landscape, the believer who has taken over the duties of a guide confesses to the camera “Whoever is inside this temple does not ask the one who comes, what are you? Christian or Muslim? “ At the entrance, a green sign is hanging on a tree in Greek and in Albanian “We never forget you Durballi Sultan Baba.” An old woman enters to worship Saint Durbali “Durbali is Holy to us, He is saint to all and is a miracle maker.” “Every year Christians come from nearby villages. They worship, we celebrate the Kurban (feast) all together, we clean the place. This year, Easter was on the same dates, and so, many did not manage to come. “At the entrance of the Teke, there are the holy icons of Ali, the Archangels Michael and Gabriel, St. Demetrius and the Virgin Mary.
The pilgrimage ends and the feast begins. Dozens of lambs for families and for those who come to worship and celebrate together are served on plastic tables. When he turns the spit, another pilgrim will share his life story with the camera .“God is for all. It’s not just mine or yours. We are from Albania. My daughter is 17 years baptized and goes to the Church and believes and receives the Eucharist. Me too. But she wants to come here too. Nobody and nothing compels us to come here. I drove 300 kilometers to come, another one came from Albania, and another one from Chalkida. “ “I do not ask anyone if he is a Christian or a Muslim. Why shall I care? If we eat and drink together, what do I care? So I have done so far in my life and so I will continue to do. “
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