Istanbul: God’s love in the time of terrorism

Three hours after I attended Mass at the Cathedral Basilica of St John, Apostle and Evangelist in Izmir, Turkey, terrorists attacked Ataturk International airport in Istanbul. The gun and bomb attack at Turkey’s largest airport has killed 41 people and injured more than 239 others.

It’s the sixth terrorist attack this year in a country that straddles the continents of Europe and Asia sharing borders with Syria, Iraq, Iran, Armenia, Georgia, Bulgaria, Azerbaijan and Greece.

The contrast between attending Mass at the Cathedral in Izmir and the horror that followed only a few hours later in Istanbul couldn’t be greater.  Fr Max celebrated Mass in Turkish in the Cathedral’s small chapel with a congregation of seven. Mass followed the Rosary and the late afternoon sun shone through the chapel window bringing warmth and light.

Fr Max’s homily from the previous Sunday included these words: “Freedom for a Christian is not the possibility to do what you want but the opportunity to love. Thus says Paul in the second reading, ‘Do not use freedom as an opportunity for the flesh; rather serve one another through love’. The very purpose of freedom is love. Freedom and love are two values that can never be separated.”

Terrorism is the repudiation of God, of love and humanity. At its core, it is the enslavement of a person to an ideology that seeks to enslave others. What sets terrorism apart from other types of armed conflict is its intrinsically indiscriminate nature – everybody and anybody is a legitimate target no matter how innocent or uninvolved they might be.

Turkey is an overwhelmingly Muslim country with the richest of Christian traditions. I couldn’t help wonder how my fellow worshippers came to be there and why they had chosen to be Christians – outsiders in their own culture. Unassuming disciples on a journey that led them to this place of love and mercy on a late summer afternoon in Izmir. While we never truly know another person we can always know their love.

So where can we find God’s love in the horror that took place in Istanbul and in so many other places around the world? Maybe the best place to look is in the simplicity of daily life where so much is taken for granted. The love of a child, the kindness of friends, the smile of a colleague or the generosity of someone we barely know.

No one can take away the love and faith that sustains us. It was reported that Istanbul taxi drivers ferried yesterday’s injured from the airport to the surrounding hospitals. While not the most well regarded of taxi drivers around the world, they yesterday took on a role of mercy for no reason other than their shared humanity and love of their fellow human beings – God’s love in action.