When the future Pope John XXIII was Apostolic Delegate in Istanbul, he and other priests and religious were restricted in the ministries they could live out. This reflection from his retreat in 1939 shows that he was undeterred; a missionary witnessing by his life rather than by preaching to the local people.
Every evening from the window of my room, here in the residence of the Jesuit Fathers, I see an assemblage of boats on the Bosphorus; they come round from the Golden Horn in tens and hundreds; they gather at a given rendezvous and then they light up, some more brilliantly than others, offering a most impressive spectacle of colours and lights. I thought it was a festival on the sea for Bairam1 which occurs just about now. But it is the organised fleet fishing for bonito, large fish which are said to come from far away in the Black Sea. These lights glow all night and one can hear the cheerful voices of the fishermen.
I find the sight very moving. The other night, towards one o’clock, it was pouring with rain but the fishermen were still there, undeterred from their heavy toil.
Oh how ashamed we should feel, we priests, ‘fishers of men’2, before such an example! To pass from the illustration to the lesson illustrated, what a vision of work, zeal and labour for the souls of men to set before our eyes! Very little is left in this land of the kingdom of Jesus Christ. Debris, sand, seeds… We must do as the fishermen of the Bosphorus do, work night and day with our torches lit, each in his own little boat, at the orders of our spiritual leaders: that is our grave and solemn duty.
1Bairam: Turkish name for festival; Eid fell in November in 1939, as did Archbishop Roncalli’s annual retreat.
I was reminded of this photograph of Porthmadog harbour, a world away from the Bosphorus.
follow this link to a report on the Apostleship of the Sea’s Mass in Southwark. As Archbishop Roncalli reminded himself, the Church was founded upon boatmen; we owe it to them to support the often forgotten seafarers of today.
John XXIII ‘Journal of a Soul’, Geoffrey Chapman, 1965, p234.