Thursday January 3
The doors of the central welcome point opened at 9am in the Armenian Catholic church of St John Chrysostom, close to Taksim Square in the city centre. A quarter of the hundred young pilgrims have already arrived. In one of the rooms, they receive Turkish tea, littles cakes, a sheet of paper with the address of the family where they will be welcomed and the meeting programme, together with a transport card. During this time, another team, composed manily of young Africans studying in Istanbul, was waiting for the other pilgrims at the two airports.
We all gathered together at 6pm in the Greek Orthodox church of the Holy Trinity on Taksim Square for vespers. Towards the end of the prayer in Greek, Metropolitan Germanos, who was presiding the celebration, asked us to sing songs from Taizé. He welcomed us on behalf of the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew and invited us for a simple and fraternel meal. As the meal ended, the families of Isntabul came to fetch their young guests. If a family couldn’t come, young Istanbulites took them to their hosts.
Friday January 4
During the morning, the pilgrims visited two important places for the Christian presence in the city, Hagia Sophia and Holy Saviour in Chora, where the fresco of the Resurrection showing the Risen Christ who dances to tear Adam and Eve from the jaws of death.
Around midday, visit to Balouki Orthodox monastery. Metropolitan Gennadios welcomes us. We pray in the church just like we do in Taizé for the midday prayer. Then the Metropolitan prays, blesses us and speaks to us about the monastery. In the courtyard, we sing in front of the tomb of Patriarch Athenagoras, whose personality influenced Brother Roger. Lunch, prepared by the sisters of the monastery, is followed by a talk and questions and answers with the Metropolitan.
During the afternoon, visit to the Armenian Apostolic church of the Holy Trinity in the city centre. Astonished and moved by the Armenian songs - echoes of Mount Ararat. Bishop Sahak Mashalian and several priests come to welcome us. The Bishop asks us to sing. Then he invites us to a room. Our eyes pop out of our heads - it is decorated as if for a wedding feast.....
At 8pm, the Armenian Catholic church of St John Chrysostom on Taksim Sqaure is filled with young pilgrims, their host families and other Christians from the city. Carpets have taken the place of pews in one part of the church - the Bishop then explains that in doing this, the ancient tradition of oriental churches has been restored; before people prayed standing or sitting on carpets. Taizé songs are sung in Turkish. Readings and prayers are made in the different languages of the Christians of Turkey and the pilgrims. During his meditation, Brother Alois expresses his gratitude for the Christians of the city. At the end, bishops, priests and pastors from different Churches come to pray with Br Alois around the icon of the cross.
Saturday January 5
At 9am, departure by boat for Heybeliada island, Halki in Greek. This is the location of the Holy Trinity monastery, which houses the buildings of the theological seminary. When we arrive at the church, the liturgy has already begun, presided by Metropolitan Elpidophoros, celebrated in Greek and English. It is followed by a prayer for the sanctification of the waters and then we are all asperged with this blessed water. Here as well, we are invited to sing afterwards. In the brilliant sunlight, the view from the terrace of the monastery over the sea and the Asian coastline is magnificent. During the meal, the Metropolitan tells us of the history of the seminary and especially of his hope of seeing it renovated and reopened this year.
Return to the city by boat and vespers in St George’s church in Phanar, seat of the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I. At the end, the Patriarch welcomes us with words that go straight to the heart. Once again, we are invited to sing and "O toi l’au-delà de tout" fit so well - words of St Gregory Nazianzen, who was Bishop of the city in the 4th century and whose relics are just a few metres from us. Then the Patriarch blesses each person with the water blessed for the feast of the Epiphany, and gives everyone the gift of a small cross and a little icon.
The brothers are invited to meet and talk with the Patriarch, whilst the young people set off in groups for five meetings taking place simultaneously - with an Orthodox community on the Bosphorus, with young adults of different rites at the Holy Spirit Catholic cathedral, with the Focolarini, with Lutherans and Anglicans together with their Muslim friends and finally with people involved in work with refugees and migrants.
Sunday January 6
The pilgrims take part in the services at the church of their host family. Three are invited to go to the Syrian Orthodox communiry for their Liturgy of the Baptism of Christ and Epiphany.
The five brothers participate in the Great Blessing of the Waters and Liturgy in the Patriarchal Church of St George at Phanar, presided by Patriarch Bartholomew and several bishops. Hundreds of faithful came from Greece for the feast. At the end of the Liturgy, everyone left the church and made their way to the shore of the Golden Horn for a new blessing of the water of the city and the whole world. Following an ancient tradition, the Patriarch throws a cross onto the sea. About twenty men dive in to fish it out. The quickest is a young man called Lukas. He brings the cross to the Patriarch and receives a golden cross to the applause of the crowd.
For the final meal, the brothers are invited by the Patriarch, who asks questions about the young pilgrims. He is very happy that Orthodox, Catholics and Protestants have come from so many different countries.