His Grace Bishop Demetrios of Mokissos, chancellor of the Greek Orthodox Metropolis of Chicago, was honored May 4th by Chicago’s Niagara Foundation, an organization founded by the local Turkish American community with a mission of promoting peace in society and intercultural dialogue.

Bishop Demetrios received the organization’s Fethulla Gulen Award during the 5th Annual Peace and Dialogue Awards program held on May 4 at the Ritz-Carlton hotel in the city’s downtown. 

An estimated 250 people turned out for the event, including local religious leaders from such denominations as the Episcopal church, the Jewish faith and the Muslim community, as well as leaders in the business community and academia, and many counsel generals representing different countries.

Also among the attendees were Greek Orthodox laypeople from the Chicago area, and more than a dozen members of the Greek Orthodox clergy, including His Eminence Metropolitan Iakovos of Chicago.

Bishop Demetrios was among four individuals honored by the Niagara Foundation, whose annual Peace and Dialogue Awards recognize “outstanding achievements of those recipients who have distinguished themselves in their professions, community, and service to humanity and [the] Chicago community.” 

The Fethullah Gulen Award is named after the Niagara Foundation’s honorary president, M. Fethullah Gulen, an accomplished Islamic scholar and preacher from eastern Turkey whose books have been best-sellers in Turkey. Gulen is also a friend of His All-Holiness, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew. The two embarked on dialogue initiatives in the mid 1990s, according to Niagara Foundation assistant director Hakan Berberoglu.

The award that bears the honorary president’s name is of special significance to the foundation, Berberoglu said in a recent interview.   

“Fethulla Gulen inspired millions of people in Turkey, representing Islam in a beautiful way and, at the same time, encouraging people engaged with other faith traditions, and living with them side by side peacefully,” Berberoglu said. “Since we are giving this award to people who are promoting peace, promoting understanding among different faith traditions, that is why Bishop Demetrios, as a religious leader in Chicago promoting peace and understanding. … That’s the reason he got the award from us.”

Bishop Demetrios told attendees he was dedicating his reception of the award to Patriarch Bartholomew, “who expressed great joy upon learning of our initial dialogues with Turkish American groups throughout our nation,” including the Niagara Foundation and The Pacifica Institute in Los Angeles, Calif., where Bishop Demetrios recently spoke on the patriarch’s behalf.  

“His All-holiness has been a tireless laborer in the fields for peace and justice – not only for a community in Turkey, but for all persons of all races, cultures and faith traditions throughout the world,” Bishop Demetrios said.

A letter congratulating him on being the recipient of “the highest honor” of the Niagara Foundation, sent by Patriarch Bartholomew, was read prior to the bishop’s acceptance of the award.

“We truly appreciate your dedication to the goals of the foundation and applaud your unwavering commitment to promoting intercultural cooperation, mutual understanding and peace among our human family,” Patriarch Bartholomew said in the letter. “It is our prayer that you may continue to labor for religious liberty, freedom and equality on behalf of your community and the Orthodox Church.”

In accepting the award, Bishop Demetrios said he would borrow the words uttered by Christ’s disciple Peter in his overwhelmed response to when Jesus appeared on Mount Tabor to transform before his closest disciples: “Lord, it is good for us to be here.”

“Over the past few years, I have had the blessed opportunity to meet and work with numerous new friends within the Turkish American community in an effort to build bridges between two peoples that, historically, have a long history of difficulties if not outright enmity, though this is not the whole story: for there were periods of relatively peaceful co-existence, both in ancient and modern times,” Bishop Demetrios said. 

“Nonetheless, the history of our peoples’ interaction is not generally one of the brighter episodes in the story of our world, but the opportunity before us is to bring new light and hope to our peoples throughout the world through our common dialogues, our mutual efforts and even our debates on how to proceed. … Mutual understanding, respect, and dedication to justice are values that all persons of good will can appreciate and seek despite real differences of philosophical and religious perspective.”

Bishop Demetrios said he is “confident in the prospects of our working together to rise up from the depths of our shared history to climb the mountain of mutual ideals and virtues, to transform the world in which our peoples live side by side, to relieve the lingering tensions, to solve enduring problems, and to promote an harmonious co-existence.”

Bishop Demetrios — whose ecumenical and interfaith commitments have him working to build bridges of understanding and to improve relationships between Chicago’s Greek Orthodox community and other local Orthodox bodies, as well as other Christian and non-Christian groups — has maintained a relationship with the Turkish-American Niagara Foundation since its inception about five years ago, when he was among the Chicago religious leaders who participated in the organization’s first intercultural trip to Turkey, Berberoglu said.

“Since then, we’ve built up a wonderful relationship,” Berberoglu said. “We’ve organized many programs together.” 

Berberoglu said a main focus of the Niagara Foundation, which is a civic organization founded by Turkish Americans living in Chicago, is “to serve multiculturalism, pluralism in the society, and to make a contribution to multicultural living.”

“The organization is not doing lobbying on behalf of the Turkish government or Turkish society,” he said. “I always say [the foundation] is a gift from the Turkish-American community to the mainstream Chicago community.” 

Also honored during the May 4 program, which featured NBC5 News anchor Allison Rosati as master of ceremonies, were Deborah L. Dehaas, vice chairman and Midwest regional managing partner at Deloitte LLP, who received the foundation’s Commitment Award; The Chicago International Film Festival, and its founder and artistic director Michael Kutza, with the Media Award; and Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White, who was recognized with the Lifetime Leadership Award.

 

The Niagara Foundation

2010 Niagara Peace and Dialogue Awards

Tuesday, May 4, 2010. The Ritz Carlton Chicago
Offered by Bishop Demetrios of Mokissos

In the Christian Scriptures, there are several accounts of an event occurring on Mount Tabor, when Jesus appeared to transform before the very eyes of three of his closest disciples, shining with bright, white light.  Overwhelmed by the experience and at a loss for words, his disciple Peter summed up his response simply: “Lord, it is good for us to be here.”

In an event that celebrates peace, inter-cultural and inter-faith dialogue, I also feel somewhat overwhelmed by the extraordinary honor of being the recipient of the Niagara Fethullah Gulen Award, and I too can exclaim, “Lord, it is good for us to be here.”

Over the past few years, I have had the blessed opportunity to meet and work with numerous new friends within the Turkish American community in an effort to build bridges between two peoples that, historically, have a long history of difficulties if not outright enmity, though this is not the whole story: for there were periods of relatively peaceful co-existence, both in ancient and modern times.  Nonetheless, the history of our peoples’ interaction is not generally one of the brighter episodes in the story of our world, but the opportunity before us is to bring new light and hope to our peoples throughout the world through our common dialogues, our mutual efforts and even our debates on how to proceed.  I recall the words of the man whose name the award granted to me bears:

“Debate should not be for the sake of ego, but rather to enable the truth to appear. When…the only thought is to vanquish the other person, there can be no positive result. For the truth to emerge in a debate of ideas, such principles as mutual understanding, respect, and dedication to justice cannot be ignored.”

Mutual understanding, respect and dedication to justice are values that all persons of good will can appreciate and seek despite real differences of philosophical and religious perspective.  Standing before you this evening, I assure you that I am confident in the prospects of our working together to rise up from the depths of our shared history to climb the mountain of mutual ideals and virtues, to transform the world in which our peoples live side by side, to relieve the lingering tensions, to solve enduring problems, and to promote an harmonious co-existence.  We may not have yet reached the mountaintop.  Those of us who believe in the possibility of peace and fruitful dialogue recognize how much higher we must yet ascend.  And yet even at the foothills, we can exclaim with thanksgiving: “Lord, it is good for us to be here.”

My own efforts in seeking to build new bridges, would have been impossible without the guidance and support of His Eminence Metropolitan Iakovos of Chicago whose commitment to dialogue has been a constant example for my own ministry.  I would be remiss to fail to mention the presence of my brother Greek Orthodox clergy who share the same commitment to peace and dialogue based on mutual respect and dedication to justice. Also, my dearest friend and a person I consider a brother, Mr. Mehmet Celebi, who joined with me to move our Turkish and Greek communities to “look into one another’s eyes”.  Likewise, many like-minded persons both here and abroad have led me to the conviction that social justice in all its manifestations is worthy of the required sacrifice and labor, perhaps especially when others do not perceive any opportunity for advancement or success.  The Christian cardinal virtues of faith, hope and love, allow us to look at the mountains of obstacles and yet begin to climb.  In the interest of peace, we must always recall that true and authentic peace comes from above, for the only lasting peace comes from God and this peace, in the words of Saint Paul, surpasses all understanding.  It comes as a gift, often unexpected.

The unexpected honor of this award bestowed upon me so graciously also should not be for the sake of ego, especially when I do not stand alone in the efforts to find rapprochement between Turks and Greeks, between Christian and Muslims, for this must be an international effort.  Therefore, I dedicate my reception of this award to His All-Holiness, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew who expressed great joy upon learning of our initial dialogues with Turkish American groups throughout our nation, such as «The Niagara Foundation» and the «The Pacifica Institute» in Los Angeles, California, where I will be soon speaking on his behalf. His All-holiness knows Fethullah Gulen personally, and considers him a friend.  His All-holiness has been a tireless laborer in the fields for peace and justice—not only for a community in Turkey, but for all persons of all races, cultures and faith traditions throughout the world.  

If we are to continue our ascent of the mountain, whether by great strides or carefully searching out narrow footholds, the guidance of such climbers as Fethullah Gulen and His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew will continue to be our trusted guides.  In their path, in their honor, I gratefully thank you and again exclaim with all my heart: friends, sisters and brothers, Lord: it is good for us to be here.