Date posted: October 25, 2012
In Niğde, we visited the schools of the Sungurbey Education Foundation, established by a private businessman-donor, Celal Afşar, whom we were privileged to have as our host. He is also a close colleague of Fethullah Gülen and good friend of Fr. Alexei Smith. Mr. Afşar asked Fr. Alexei to write a letter to Mr. Gülen, describing our group and the nature of our trip, which Mr. Afşar will deliver personally to him when he visits him next week in the USA. Here are excerpts from the letter:
My Dear and Respected Dr. Fethullah Gülen,
Permit me first to extend my condolences upon the death of your brother. May his memory be eternal.
Second, allow me to introduce myself. I am a Catholic Priest in Los Angeles, CA, serving not only as a parish priest but also as Ecumenical and Interreligious Officer of Archdiocese, which means that I direct the Catholic Church’s relations with all other faiths in our city. Some ten years ago I had the great privilege of introducing members of the Hizmet Movement to the Interfaith Community in our area.
Since then I have actively supported and participated in activities of the Pacifica Institute in Los Angeles, attending their luncheon programs and Anatolian Festivals as well as speaking at their Friendship Dinners, not only in Los Angeles, but also in Reno and Honolulu.
I have traveled to Turkey twice before with the Pacifica Institute and am currently in Niğde with them again,m visiting my friend Celal Afşar, and it is at his suggestion that I write you today.
I want to share with you the glad tidings that twelve of us Catholic Priests, in partnership with Pacifica Institute, have come to Turkey — some for the first time — to experience the rich Christian past and present here, as well as to learn about the Hizmet Movement, its schools and members, and its approach to interfaith dialogue. Some of these priests have had very limited experience with Muslims, and all of us have, of course, been exposed to the very negative stereotypical image of your faith that is all-too-often presented in our media. But now, having been exposed to the very positive image of Islam that the Hizmet movement presents, these priests are discovering much that is deeply meaningful to them in their own lives and ministries. This visit brings us all a new understanding and our attitudes are being transformed. All thanks to the members of the Hizmet Movement here and in Los Angeles, whom I commend highly.
It is my firm belief that Catholics and Muslims together have a great deal to offer the world with our shared moral values and concerns for social justice, as well as our dedication to quality education available to all without exception. This has been abundantly manifested in the schools we are visiting during our stay here in Turkey.
We are brothers and sisters in the One Creator, and as such have a responsibility to work together for the greater good of all humankind.
I assure you of my prayers for you, and I ask yours for us. I further assure you that I — and I believe many of those who are journeying here together — will continue to partner with and support the Hizmet Movement in its endeavors for Interreligious Dialogue and acceptance of others created in the image and likeness of the One God.
Peace be upon you.
Rt. Rev. Alexei Smith
Ecumenical and Interreligious Officer
Archdiocese of Los Angeles