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Tuesday, October 9, 2007

The House of Mary: A place that unites all


The House of Mary: A place that unites all
Tuesday, October 9, 2007
Gözde Aslantaş & Natalie Lyubomirsky

İZMİR-Turkish Daily News
Up in the mountain side of Selçuk, overlooking the city of Efes rests the House of the Virgin Mary. This place nestled in a green and tranquil environment attracts thousands of visitors each day, both local and international. They come for different reasons, some to visit and some to pray, but most importantly they come from different backgrounds. This is a special quality of this site in that it unifies all who come regardless of ones religion, culture or nationality. She is ‘A mother who embraces her children' with a maternal compassion. This uniting quality is one that Father Tarcy Mathias sees very clearly in his everyday work with the church, something that he is very proud of. Mother Mary embraces each and every one in the house, mother Mary embraces each and every one through the house.
The history of the house dates back to the early Roman period, as a part of Efes. The structure of the house has change somewhat over the thousands of years it has existed. Originally the house would have been a two structure building but years of deterioration has left just one level. Archaeologists have been able to find that the house dates back to approximately the 4th or 5th century AD, but foundations they found are much earlier, probably from the 1st century. The house was restored with the help of the Swiss and American Catholic Associations in 1950 and inaugurated on June 9th 1951 by the Archbishop of İzmir, Decuffi.
The discovery of the house is linked directly to a German nun, Anna Katherine Emmerich (1774-1824), who after many years of being bedridden from illness began to have visions of the Virgin Mary and Christ. In those visions she clearly detailed the house that Mary lived in after the crucifixion of Christ. These details were later verified by two Lazarist priests, Father Jung and Father Poulin, who on July 29th 1891 discovered the house. After six days of field work they were confident in their find.

The House As It Is Today
Originally from India, Father Tarcy Mathias came to Selçuk in 1998, assigned to the House of the Virgin Mary by his superiors. He did not know much about Turkey and was hesitant in being reassigned but finally agreed to try it for a year. That was ten years ago and now Farther Tarcy feels “Very much at home and very comfortable and happy to work in Mary's House.'' ''I am very proud to be in Turkey,'' he said. He also feels nostalgic due to the fact that before he was working in North India. “In a small town that was a Muslim state until independence when it became a part of India. I feel very comfortable in Selçuk, because the environment is so similar,” Father Tarcy said.
The fact that the Roman Catholic Church has not officially acknowledged this site as Mother Mary's home has not shaken the faith of Father Tarcy or the people who come there each day. The church speaks officially in matters of faith and morals, “how you explain faith and put it into practice everyday. The existence of this house does not touch our faith in Mother Mary, it is not directly connected,” Father Tarcy said. But the house is still publicly acknowledged as a sacred site, a place of prayer and a place of spiritual feeling by the Catholic Church through the many visits of Popes to the site, recently with Pope Benedict XVI visit in November 2006.
This faith in the house is best shown each year on August 15th with the Feast of the Assumption of Mary. A record of this pilgrimage dates back centuries in the town of Şirince where every year local Greek Orthodox villagers would make the 18 km pilgrimage to the Virgin Mary's House. This tradition has continued but it has changed slightly. Firstly there is no longer a local Catholic community that gather but rather a mix of Catholics from other cities in Turkey and around the world as well as people of different religions. “From the morning people come to pray. Anyone can come and take part.” Father Tarcy said. The ceremony is conducted in three parts. At half past ten there is an inter-religious prayer service, at twelve a Catholic Mass and at three a devotion to Mary.

A Site of Religious Harmony
The unique aspect of this place is that it shows the ability of the coexistence of many religions and the similarities between them.
“Turkey is the bridge between East and West and that symbol is best shown in Mother Mary and what happens here in Mary's House,” Father Tarcy said.
“It is a beautiful thing to see our brothers and sisters from Turkey of Islam come and pray here. Its very touching, I feel very proud of Turkey,” he said.
The house of the Virgin Mary is a spiritual place, however “Religion does play a part in this place but not as an end, we want everyone regardless of religion and culture to have a spiritual experience. To feel that Mother Mary loves them and looks after them,” Father Tarcy said.
Due to this co-existence of many religions Father Tarcy's perspective has changed. “People of Islam, different religions, no religion, and young people come here. I can see that Mother Mary has touched everyone. My religion, through the practice of my Christian faith has become one of being human, to appreciate humanity. I see this very clearly here,” he said.
On the subject of interpreting religious books, Farther Tarcy explained that it is important to follow the scriptures as well as interpret the words. “These books were written at a certain time, by a certain person, with a certain perspective. Printed words are only an outer shell of the inner message of the word of God. Through the scriptures you must discover the Word of God.” Father Tarcy said. When Mary, as the mother of all, embraces and welcomes all, the differences disappear while the original truth becomes clearer, he asserts.“When you pray you will begin to understand each others religion. All of us come from the same spirit. Every life is spirit,” he said. “Through prayer one can discover the oneness, not only between ourselves but within the whole of creation. There is life in this world, it is not a dead thing,” Father Tarcy said.This is his global message, that no matter what religion you are we come from the same god and that all religions have the same message. “We must find a common spirit between us. Everyone is a brother or sister so we must treat each other like that. Consider the humanity of one, discover the oneness of your spirit and not let your religion divide you,” Father Tarcy said.

Maintaining the House of Mary
The Church is maintained by the Dernek, who pay for its maintenance and everyday bills. “We receive no funding at all, neither from the Vatican or the government. Dernek provides for us. We are only in charge of religious services. But we are not here for the sake of money but for Mother Mary and her house,” Farther Tarcy said.Another issue was the entrance fee that both tourist and people attending Mass must pay. “People coming to Mass must buy a ticket to enter this place. The Belediye don't know who comes to pray and who comes as a tourist, I understand it's very difficult to know that. Nowhere else do you have to pay to pray. We need to all get together, the Belediye, Dernek and the Church to work out a better system, so that we can serve the people better and no wrong impressions are given,” Father Tarcy added.It's not only about financial maintenance but a spiritual one as well, in the sense that visitors to the Church must respect and maintain the spiritual atmosphere of the environment.
This can be achieved through dressing appropriately, observing silence as well as not taking photos within the House of the Virgin Mary. “It is not my place to tell a man to put on his shirt or a woman to dress more appropriately, but tourists must remember that this is a place of reflection and to act accordingly not only out of respect for the Church but for other people as well.” Father Tarcy said and insisted. “Tourist agents and guides must give this information to their groups and see that this is observed. This will certainly help to create a better atmosphere of payer and spiritual experience in Mary's House,” Father Tarcy said. The House of the Virgin Mary is a testament to the peaceful coexistence of many different religions, something that symbolic of the religious harmony that Turkey encompasses. A spiritual journey and experience is more important than the religious aspect of the place. The message of the place resonates in the many people who visit and pray there everyday, all from different background, religions and cultures. Through a deeper understanding of faith and a spiritual experience one will be able to come to the realization that all religions carry with them the same message and that with this realization we are united.

Mary in Koran and Bible
"The angel went to her and said, 'Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you." (Luke, 1:28)
"Behold! the angels said: "O Mary! Allah has chosen you and purified you - chosen you above the women of all nations." (Koran, 3:42)
"Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. But the angel said to her, "Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God. You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus." (Luke, 1.29-31)
Behold! the angels said: "O Mary! Allah gives you glad tidings of a Word from Him: his name will be İsa (Christ Jesus), the son of Mary, held in honor in this world and the Hereafter and of (the company of) those nearest to Allah" (Koran, 3:45)
"How will this be," Mary asked the angel, "since I am a virgin?" The angel answered, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God.”(Luke, 1:34-5)
"She said: 'O my Lord! How shall I have a son when no man has touched me?' He said: "Even so: Allah creates what He wills: when He has decreed a Plan, He but says to it, 'Be,' and it is!" (Koran, 3:47)