There is so much I want to share about Turkey. Today I would like to focus on an event that happened to coincide with my visit, the Muslim festival Kurban Bayram, or the Feast of Sacrifice. For Muslims, this three- to five-day feast commemorates Ibrahim's willingness to sacrifice his son Ishmael to show his faithfulness to Allah; essentially the same story in the Old Testament where Abraham was willing to sacrifice his son Isaac until the angel prevents the killing.
I noticed for several days before the event that, while driving, I was seeing lots of pick-up trucks and trailers carrying mostly sheep and goats throughout the city streets. I was in Antalya, on the southern coast of Turkey, on the day that the feast began. There are two great feasts that are celebrated during the year for Muslims, the end of Ramadan and the Feast of Sacrifice. Part of our little tour group in Antalya included a Turkish man, who helped all of us understand the feast, in which he had taken an active role for most of his young life. He told us that the feast was all about family and charity. Those with the means would purchase a young lamb or goat (sometimes other animals were chosen). Depending on where the family lived, arrangements would be made for the purchase and slaughter of the animal. In rural communities, this would usually be done on the farm or in the yard. We happened to be in Antalya, a city of over a million people, on the first day of the festival. Our Turkish friend found out where the mobile slaughter houses were set up in the city, so we decided to drive to one to witness the event for ourselves.
We arrived in a city neighborhood and found the site, the ground floor of a parking garage. We watched as the pickup trucks and trailers arrived with the animals. The place was filled with people, young and old, and the animals were lined up to face the slaughter.
Being someone who is a city guy and who never really spent much time on a farm or with farm animals, this was a real eye-opener for me. We watched one lamb have its throat slit and die within minutes. As the animal is killed, someone prays a ritual prayer. Then the animal is skinned and the meat and organs are harvested. The entire process takes about 35 minutes and is done with speed and cleanliness. This was definitely not for the faint of heart. This video does not show the actual slaughter, but it will give you a good idea of the setting.
Traditionally, families divide the meat into thirds, one third for the family, another third for extended family and friends, and the final third for the poor and needy.
As I was walking back to the car, I looked up when I heard this animal "baah-ing."
So, what went on in my mind? I thought about the "suffering servant" from Isaiah 53:6-7:
"We had all gone astray like sheep, each following his own way, but the Lord laid upon him the guilt of us all. Though he was harshly treated, he submitted and opened not his mouth. Like a lamb led to the slaughter or a sheep before the shearers, he was silent and opened not his mouth."
I also thought about how striking the prayer is we pray each time we are at Mass, "Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world, have mercy on us . . . grant us peace."
Here, before me, was a lamb being led to the slaughter, actually lots or lambs. One of our companions said, "Don't they know what is about to happen? In a matter of minutes, they will be killed." I watched as the young children were petting the animals that were next in line, a look of fascination and wonder on their faces as they watched what looked like sheer brutality to me.
I started praying, thinking of the Lord Jesus, whose own sacrifice saved (and continues to save) me. And I recalled that his sacrifice was once and for all. Unlike the Muslims, we do not sacrifice animals any more; the one sacrifice has been accomplished in Christ; there is no need for animal sacrifice in Christianity.
Oddly, I started thinking also about our upcoming feast of Thanksgiving and the fact that millions of turkeys will be slaughtered in order for our feasts to be complete. Granted, this slaughter has nothing to do with religious sacrifice, but I couldn't help but think of that one turkey that the president "pardons" just before Thanksgiving. There was no "pardoning" in Turkey that day of Kurban Bayram.
Travel brings the cultures of the world right up to our eyes. I felt so privileged to be in Turkey for this Muslim feast.
Tomorrow, I am traveling to Dallas for the annual meeting of the Federation of Diocesan Liturgical Commissions, representing WLP and J.S. Paluch. I want share my experience of two ancient baptisteries and fonts I experienced in Ephesus. Hopefully, all the technology will work "on the road" so that I can share these amazing places with you.
Gotta sing. Gotta pray.