By G. William Quatman
Special to the Catholic Key
(SELCUK, Turkey) — The Cause of the Beatification and Canonization of Servant of God, Sister Marie de Mandat-Grancey took a major step forward in early October when Bishop Robert Finn led the Tribunal to Turkey for five days of meetings and interviews. The four-member contingency from the Kansas City-St. Joseph Diocese consisted of Bishop Finn and the three-man Tribunal of Rev. Matthew Bartulica (Episcopal Delegate), Rev. Joseph Totton (Promoter of Justice) and Mr. Bill Quatman (Notary). The work of the Tribunal requires interviews of witnesses who can provide testimony on the virtues of Sister Marie, including the impact that the nun’s life has had on others. Witnesses interviewed included a woman from Ireland, two ladies from Turkey, a priest from Malta, and Archbishop Ruggero Francheschini of Izmir.
The Tribunal arrived in Izmir, Turkey on October 8th, a modern city of over four million, where they rode south about forty miles to the town of Selcuk, near the ancient city of Ephesus. In Ephesus over half of the New Testament was written, including most of Paul’s letters, the Gospels of Luke and John, Acts of the Apostles (also written by St. Luke), and the “pastoral epistles” of 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy and Titus. The book of Revelation was written nearby by John on the island of Patmos. To walk the ancient street of Ephesus is to follow in the footsteps of the apostles and, many believe, in the steps of the Blessed Virgin herself.
It is widely accepted that after persecutions broke out against the followers of Christ in Jerusalem, the apostles dispersed into other regions. John went to Ephesus in Asia Minor. Visionaries such as Blessed Anne Catherine Emmerich and Venerable Mary of Agreda, Spain each saw John and Mary making their way from Jerusalem to Ephesus. There, John built a stone house on a peaceful hilltop where she was safe and lived out her final days. That stone house was discovered in 1891 by French Lazarist priests following the visions of Emmerich, after encouragement by Sister Marie de Mandat-Grancey. Today, over one million pilgrims and tourists visit the restored home on that same hilltop. Bishop Finn and the Tribunal were blessed to be able to celebrate Mass each morning at 7 a.m. at the same altar where St. John is believed to have prayed with other apostles after Mary’s death and assumption.
“This is an incredible place,” said Bishop Finn, “to stand in the same space where Mary and St. John stood. It is steeped in a sense of spirituality, a sacred peacefulness that invades your soul.” Tourists from cruise ships that have docked in the nearby port of Kusidasi arrive all day long and line up in silence for their turn to enter the house. They are uniformly surprised at the sense of Mary’s presence that fills the small chapel. One by one, they enter the foyer, then the main room of the house where a statue of the Blessed Virgin greets them on the small altar. Visitors stop, remove their hats, some kneel, others cross themselves and say a silent prayer. Many emerge in tears of joy.
“It is remarkable to see hundreds of visitors each morning arrive off of buses, and stop to light candles, say prayers and take a photo of themselves in front of this holy house,” said Rev. Joseph Totton of St. James Church in St. Joseph, Missouri. Most then walk down a flight of stone steps where an ancient artesian stream flows from Mary’s House to four fountains where visitors fill bottles with “holy water.” More than half of the pilgrims are Muslims who feel that Mary’s House is the home to Meryem, the mother of Isa (Jesus) the great prophet of Islam. The Koran mentions Mary more times than the Bible, and devotes an entire chapter to Mary. One verse in the Koran states that, “We made the son of Mary and his mother a sign to mankind, and gave them a shelter on a peaceful hillside watered by a fresh spring.” (The Believers 23:50). For this reason, Muslims from Turkey, Iran and other nations make pilgrimages to see the stone house.
“It is remarkable to see Christians and Muslims praying side-by-side,” said Bill Quatman, the notary for the Tribunal. “I have seen Muslims ask Catholic priests to pray for them at this place, ask prayers for healing and for health of their children. It seems that in Ephesus, at Mary’s House, the two religions find a common ground in the Blessed Virgin. It is a beautiful thing to witness.”
To the left of the fountains is a long stone wall on which thousands of people have followed a local custom and tied scarves, tissues, and other pieces of paper on which they have written a prayer to Mary for intercession. Muslim women with covered heads, Orthodox pilgrims, Protestants and Catholics all stop at what is called the “prayer wall” to write a prayer and add it to the wall. The wall contains prayers of thanksgiving, prayers for intercession and photos of loved ones. Some are in bundles, obviously sent by bible study groups, families and friends along with pilgrims who have been asked to add their prayers to the wall. “I had several people from Kansas City ask me to either take their prayers with me, or to write one for them,” Quatman said. “Their prayers are now mixed with the thousands of others on that wall in Ephesus.”
The Tribunal’s work took them to the large city of Izmir on two separate days, where they visited St. Polycarp’s Church, believed to be the successor to the Church of Smyrna which is mentioned by John in Revelations. John writes to the seven churches of Asia Minor, including the ones at Ephesus and Smyrna. In Izmir, the Tribunal met with Archbishop Franchescini and reviewed the archives of the archdiocese on Sister Marie. They also met with the president of the Dernek, Mr. Noel Micaleff, who oversees and maintains Mary’s House and its property. During a fortuitous dinner meeting in Izmir, the Tribunal was introduced to Mr. Roland Richichi, an officer of the local Christian Cemetery Association. With Mr. Richichi’s assistance, the Tribunal was able to make progress on plans to exhume the remains of Sister Marie for examination. “Unfortunately, the Daughters of Charity were all buried in a mass grave in Izmir,” said Fr. Matthew Bartulica, “which complicates things a bit for the Tribunal.” With over forty nuns buried in the same grave, it will be necessary to conduct DNA samples from the current members of the Mandat-Grancey family to check against the remains in the mass grave. A positive match will identify Sister Marie among the other blessed nuns who are buried together.
Bishop Finn and Mr. Quatman also met with the mayor of Selcuk, Mr. Hüseyin Vefa Ülgür for an hour to discuss the possible relocation of Sr. Marie’s grave closer to Mary’s House. The mayor was not aware of the opening of the cause for Sr. Marie’s beatification but was duly impressed with the life of Sr. Marie. The town of Selcuk is designing a new museum that will tell the history of this ancient city and Mayor Ülgür indicated that possibly there could be an exhibit on Sr. Marie. “We were greeted with open arms by the mayor,” Bishop Finn remarked, “who understands the multicultural aspects of his town and the draw to the Blessed Mother.” In fact, only one week before our arrival in Selcuk, the mayor announced that he had finalized plans to become a Sister City to Fatima, Portugal. “The mayor and a small contingency is planning a trip to Fatima later this month to meet with their counterparts in Fatima,” the Bishop added.
Another highlight of the Tribunal’s visit to Turkey was to visit the Church of Mary, the site of the Third Ecumenical Council in 431 A.D., where Mary was declared “Theotokos” or “Mother of God.” The church is believed to be the first named for the Blessed Mother. On Sunday, October 9th a special Mass was celebrated in Ephesus to commemorate the Council of Ephesus. Bishop Robert Finn was a co-celebrant at the Mass with Archbishop Franchescini of Izmir and another retired bishop who was visiting from Rome. The Tribunal also paid its respects at the Basilica of St. John, where the beloved apostle was buried. Dr. Mustafa Büyükkolanci, who heads up the archeological restoration team there, gave a tour of not only the ancient church of St. John, but a special tour of the hilltop citadel which is undergoing reconstruction. Dr. Mustafa showed the bishop and other members of the Tribunal an ancient Byzantine church on the hilltop that is believed to have been erected over the spot where St. John wrote his gospel. “We prayed inside the ruins of this holy place,” said Bishop Finn, “perhaps the first Christian prayers said there in decades. It was a remarkable trip and pilgrimage for us all.”