Antakia (Agenzia Fides) - This year in Antakya, Turkey, Catholics and Orthodox will celebrate together the feast of Saints Peter and Paul at the "Cave Church of Peter", the ancient cave church on Mt. Silpius, reopened to visitors in 2015, after a restoration that lasted many years. On the morning of June 29, in the presence of Bishop Paul Bizzeti SJ, Apostolic Vicar of Anatolia, and envoy of the Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Antioch, the Christians of the local community will animate a joint celebration with songs, prayers and readings from the New Testament. Archbishop Paul Fitzpatrick Russell, Apostolic Nuncio in Turkey since last March will also intervene during the celebration.
The rock church still preserves the appearance that the Crusaders gave to it, who conquered ancient Antioch on the Orontes in 1098. But already the Byzantines had already turned the chapel into the place where the first baptized met in times of persecution, in the city where for the first time the disciples of Jesus were called Christians and where St. Peter was Bishop before coming to Rome.
The recent restoration put an end to the state of abandonment in which the Cave of Peter was in. In past years, Patriarchs and Bishops were often present at the celebrations that were held on the occasion of the Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul.
"Unfortunately", notes Fr. Domenico Bertogli OFM Cap, parish priest of the local Catholic community "the social political situation is disturbing, and people are afraid .... many pilgrims do not come any more. In 2011 tourists who visited Antakya were more than 80 thousand, in 2015 they dropped to less than 10 thousand ... in the east of the country attacks are multiplying. In our region in recent months, 21 people died, and in Hatay alone, refugees, mainly Syrians, 400 thousand. We will ask the help of St. Peter, St. Paul and the Virgin Mary". (GV) (Agenzia Fides 27/06/2016)