“In 1984, I was with a group of bishops who came from a number of different Churches. We visited the Basilica of Saint Sofia in Istanbul and were very impressed by this imposing building which seemed to tangibly embody the history of the Church and of humankind. This building dates back to the time of ancient Christianity, to a time when Christians were united and Asia Minor was the centre of the Christian world: it is also the very building where unity was broken through the division between the East and the West. In the sections of the dome that were visible, we saw enormous inscriptions taken from the Koran – a sign of the domination of another religion over lacerated Christianity. There were several signs saying “Prayer is forbidden” right in front of us. It was a museum in which people were wandering around with cameras and binoculars admiring the artistic treasures.
The absence of religion in a place that had previously been so sacred was terrible. We felt overwhelmed by this sequence of events: unity, unity broken, the diversity of religious faith, no religion at all. We gazed around in search of help when, all of a sudden, we saw it! Above the dome, quietly glistening, there was an ancient mosaic of Mary offering her Son. Looking at it, I clearly understood that this is the Church: to simply be here and be the first to generate God, that God who seems to be absent.
I understood “Theotokos” – the mother of God, the one who generates God – in a completely new way. I understood that we cannot organise faith in the world. If no one wants to hear about God any longer, we cannot hammer on saying “Woe to you!” We just have to be there and be the first to bring the light of God to the world, that God that seems to be absent. We cannot “create” God but we can only shed light upon him; we can’t use argument to prove that God exists but we can be the chalice that contains him, the heaven from which he almost imperceptibly shines forth. I understood not only our task in the Church but also how the Church exists in the figure of Mary and Mary exists in the figure of the Church – how both the figure and the reality are the same.”
Klaus Hemmerle, Partire dall’unità. La Trinità e Maria, pp. 124, 125.