Those who know me are aware that I’m always on the lookout for “the other.” Ten years ago I was advertising Turkey as “The OTHER Holy Land,” much to the dismay of my brother Irish priests for whom, of course, Ireland claims that title. (Pope Benedict XVI, when he visited Turkey in the second year of his papacy, more correctly referred to Turkey as “the Holy Land of the Church,” which it truly is, and I’ve used that expression since then.)
Whenever Catholics think of St. Ignatius, our first thoughts immediately go to the Basque Ignatius of Loyola (1491-1556), the founder of the Jesuits. Rightly and deservedly so.
However, last Saturday we celebrated the feast of the Syrian St. Ignatius of Antioch, who lived fourteen hundred years earlier (about 35 to 107). Those were equally exciting and dangerous times. (Actually, when you begin to look at history objectively, every time was exciting and dangerous. There was never a peaceful, safe, and boring time or place in the history of humandkind!) He’s one of my favorite saints. Watch my homily for last Saturday’s Mass to find out why.
Ancient Antioch on the Orontes is now Antakya (AKA Hatay) in Turkey. We’ve been to Antakya several times on the Early Christian World Pilgrimage, and always are warmly welcomed to the small Catholic “house church” in the old Jewish Quarter by Capuchin Father Domenico Bertogli, who gives us a brief talk about the origins of the Church in Antioch, and allows us to celebrate Mass in the church, which was formerly a house built in Ottoman times. You can visit the website of the Catholic Church in Antakya for a lot of information about Antioch/Antakya in the past and the present.