ASIA/TURKEY - Pre-Christmas season in Catholic communities: “We want to be a living church”

Friday, 15 December 2023 faith   eucharist   christmas   caritas   charity  

Izmir (Agenzia Fides) - "We are in the pre-Christmas season, we are a small community of faith, as Catholics we are a drop in the ocean, but we want to be a living Church linked to Christ the Lord: we are called to live and bear witness to his love here in Turkeyin everyday life, in situations that are sometimes difficult. In this spirit, we will celebrate Christmas, especially on a spiritual level, with faith in God, who shows charity, openness and benevolence towards every human being," Martin Kmetec (OFM Conv), a Slovenian Franciscan priest who has been Archbishop of Izmir since December 2020 and currently President of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of Turkey, told Fides. "Our special thoughts at this time go to the Vicariate of Anatolia," said the Archbishop, "a huge area that covers half of Turkey. There are still many displaced people there, about 3 million, and many of them live in tents and containers under precarious conditions. These are the families that were affected by the earthquake last February. We are trying to give them some hope again, we are in the process of rebuilding their entire lives. The families are doing this in their own humble way, and we support them in this. This reconstruction is also a sign of the renewal of life: We are starting anew, we say to the believers, and the Lord is near us and helps us". The Archbishop also speaks about the restoration of the many churches damaged by the earthquake: "In Izmir we are working on the restoration of the Church of Saint Polycarp, the same work is being carried out in Antioch, while in Iskenderun the cathedral collapsed and needs to be rebuilt, that will take longer." "The reconstruction of church buildings," he explains, "is important because the building itself is for us a valuable symbol of the presence of the Christian community in Turkey. The Catholic Church does not enjoy legal recognition from the state, so it receives neither state support for reconstruction nor permits for new buildings. We are called to act on our own strength, and that is why we also need help from outside. The status of Christian communities in Turkey is dependent on the presence of historical buildings. Churches are a visible sign of our presence, but above all they are a living place, a place of community, meeting places for church services, for pastoral care, for fraternal relationships, for charity. They are very important reference points for the faithful who will help in the reconstruction." At Christmas in the Catholic communities in Turkey "there will be no lack of thoughts, prayers and initiatives for the earthquake victims, Christian and non-Christian.
We want to be close to those who are in need, to give consolation and to give concrete signs of solidarity. "Caritas, in which we are all involved, gives a strong testimony and is very much appreciated." "In every church," he continues, "we live this Advent season and experience Christmas with deep faith: we celebrate the novena, we make the nativity scene, and this year we commemorate the 800th anniversary of St. Francis of Assisi the first nativity scene created in Greccio. But Francis has placed the Eucharist at the center of the nativity scene: this is a strong sign for us. In fact, at the beginning of Advent we opened the year of the Eucharist (see Fides, 21/11/2023). We have invited the faithful to live it on a personal level, with decisions for the conversion of heart, but also together, as a community, in spiritual communion. The Eucharist is at the center of personal and community life: this is our certainty. "The Lord is our rock and will support us even in difficult and painful situations." "During the Year of the Eucharist," said the President of the Bishops' Conference, "there will be a time of Eucharistic adoration in all our communities. We also intend to organize a special celebration in Istanbul during which Turkey will be consecrated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus: it will be a very important and significant moment for the life of the Church in Turkey." Finally, Archbishop Kmetec also recalls the Holy Land, which "is close to our hearts and will be the focus of our Christmas celebrations. We confidently ask the Lord for the gift of peace in the land where Jesus walked," he emphasizes". "The war is a very big wound for all of us. We can only appeal to the Most High with all our strength, we can only turn to him unceasingly, so that he may melt hatred from the hearts and give peace to this tormented and blessed land". (PA) (Agenzia Fides,15/12/2023)