Your Holiness, I was disappointed by remarks you made as a Cardinal in 2002 about Turkey's ineligibility to join the European Union (EU). You suggested Turkey, as a Muslim country, has a history which stands "in permanent contrast to Europe."
I reconciled myself to the notion that (Christian) Eastern European nations like Romania and Bulgaria, with economic indicators resembling Turkey's, can waltz into the EU a few years after their initial application. However, predominantly Muslim Turkey remains a European outcaste after several decades.
In line with the Christmas spirit, I discarded the grudge and entered one of your homes on Christmas Eve. I note you did something similar in November 2006 by visiting Turkey and making a 'vague' statement about the nation's EU ambitions.
I thought long and hard about whether to write about my experience in your place of worship. I did not wish to be misunderstood or seen to be interfering.
As always, my emotions got the better of my reason. If I can be critical of the torch bearers of my own faith then why pause at the Cross's doorstep? Both faiths preach the unity of God.
The Christmas Eve mass was interesting but long. Way too long.
In today's internet age normal people are afflicted with attention deficit disorder. Any presenter knows that twenty minutes is about the maximum one can push an audience.
Throw in fancy costumes, incense, candlelight and deeply ritualistic behaviour and maybe, just maybe, one can stretch the delivery out to 45 minutes. But not two hours!
Two hours is an invitation to nap. Throughout the service many faithful were dozing intermittently. When your audience sleeps they don't hear the message.
The modern world is all about sound bites, buzz and viral marketing. What I witnessed on Christmas Eve was a confusing cocktail of pageantry, noise and unfocused preaching.
I left with only one clear message. The Church recommends 15-16 year old pregnant Singaporean schoolgirls keep the baby at all costs. Single motherhood is preferred to abortion.
Having no fundamental disagreements with an individual's right to abortion, I disagree with the content of the message. Nevertheless, unlike the rest of the sermon this message was delivered (and received) loud and clear.
Another message concerning material goods was buried deep within the sermon. Consequently, it got lost among the verbiage of the Gospel and the drowsiness of the flock.
It seems that the Church and Islam have something to learn from each other.
Today's Church is unable to maintain interest in its religious philosophy among existing and new Catholics. Christianity has lost much of its significance since the advent of the Scientific Revolution.
On the contrary, Islam has recently seen a resurgence of interest. Not all aspects of Islam's revival have been positive. Narrow and obscure views of Islam hog the limelight. Violence in Islam's name is endemic.
Islam's true message is lost amidst the noise of suicide bombings.
Herein lays the paradox. Send a Muslim to a mosque each Friday for a year and, at worst, he is ready to commit suicide for the cause. At best, he will become a fine outstanding member of his community and faith.
Send a Catholic to Church for a year and I suspect he will stop attending on day 366; the weekly sermons typically infuse little enthusiasm to practice the faith.
Church rituals have great potential. A drama created by candles, costumes and burning sweet smelling incense is enough to capture anyone's senses. Yet, what I saw was an underwhelming performance.
Some may object to my treating religion as a 'saleable commodity.'
Religion is a saleable commodity. In the marketplace for ideas, a religion is a set of beliefs for individuals to comprehend, process and finally accept or discard.
For any religion to thrive its philosophy must be packaged well. It must capture the energies of the spirit and the imagination.
The Christmas Eve mass is the Church's Grand Finale performance for the calendar year. It's a sold out show with a receptive audience. Somehow, I don't think anyone left the venue speaking excitedly about the virtues of Catholicism. They were too busy checking the time.
Then again, I am neither a Catholic nor a Turk so what do I know.
They [People of the Book: Christians and Jews] believe in Allah [God] and the Last Day; They [People of the Book] enjoin what is right, and forbid what is wrong; And they [People of the Book] hasten (in emulation) in (all) good works: They [People of the Book] are in the ranks of the righteous.
Surah Al-Imran (3:114)
PS – I really should attend (and write about) a Hari Raya sermon, but I am afraid that it will be in Malay (or Tamil possibly) so I may not understand much of it!