Antakya (Agenzia Fides) - "The situation in Antioch is dramatic. Entire buildings have collapsed, mosques and churches have been destroyed. There are dead, there are people buried under the rubble, and in many places no one has yet arrived to try to save them. It is freezing cold, there is no light, there is no water, bread ovens have been destroyed, shops are closed. The streets, filled with debris, are impassable even for rescue vehicles. I am told that at least half of the city is destroyed or has suffered serious damage, especially in the oldest part". This is the dramatic testimony to Fides by Father Domenico Bertogli, 86, a Capuchin Friar from Modena, who from the late 1980s until 2022 served as parish priest to the Catholic community of Antakya, the ancient Antioch on the Orontes, now located in the southwestern Turkish province of Hatay. Antakya is less than 200 kilometers from Gaziantep, the closest urban area to the epicenter of the earthquake that has sowed death between Syria and Turkey.
Father Dominic is now in Istanbul, but he is in daily contact with Father Francis, who succeeded him in Antakya as parish priest of the Catholic church dedicated to Saints Peter and Paul. "Our parish," Father Bertogli tells Fides, "was not destroyed. It is a low building, and it withstood the shock of the tremors. Only the reception house suffered serious damage. But the mosque and minaret that were right next to the parish collapsed. Two major mosques in the city were also gutted, as well as the Orthodox church (in the photo, ed.) and the Protestant church." Now, the small parish has opened its doors to accommodate displaced families living nearby: "They feel safer, because the parish has a garden that is an immediately accessible escape route, in case of new tremors. And the looming fear of further tremors also prevents people from facing the emergency with lucidity. There is a need for food, tents and blankets. There is a need for everything."
It was Father Dominic himself who had inaugurated the parish of Saints Peter and Paul so many years ago, in a city laden with memories associated with early apostolic preaching. He had established it by restoring two old crumbling houses in the old Jewish quarter, where presumably the dwellings of the city's first Christians were also concentrated. Having finished the work, he had carved on the stone above the doorway the inscription Türk Katolik Kilisesi, "Turkish Catholic Church."
After the death and resurrection of Christ, the Apostle Peter arrived in Antioch on the Orontes, who stayed there for a long time. That is why the city was Sedes Petri before Rome. In Antioch, the Apostle Paul also confronted the Apostle Peter to nullify any claim to impose circumcision and other Jewish observances on the newly baptized from paganism. In Antioch, according to the Acts of the Apostles, those who follow and love Jesus were first called "Christians." (GV) (Agenzia Fides, 7/2/2023)
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