At the conclusion of their ad limina visit, the president of the Turkish Bishops’ Conference, Archbishop Martin Kmetec, says, “We shared our problems and our hopes with Francis. After the attack on the Church in Istanbul, the faithful are fearful, but it is necessary to go out from the climate of terror.”
By Federico Piana
“First of all, we thanked the Holy Father for the interest he has shown in our Church,” said Archbishop Martin Kmetec, speaking with Vatican News about the February 9th audience of the bishops of Turkey with Pope Francis. As Metropolitan Archbishop of Izmir and president of the Turkish Bishops’ Conference, Archbishop Kmetec was keen to share what, at that moment, overflowed from his heart: “The greatest gratitude for the attention, the real care,” that has never been lacking from the Pope. He added, “We shared with Francis “some issues, very important ones, that concern our situation.”
Friday’s audience officially marked the culmination of the visit ad limina Apostolorum [“the threshold of the Apostles”] that the Turkish bishops had begun a few days earlier, which involved meeting with almost all the heads of the Dicasteries of the Roman Curia. Archbishop Kmetec said, “In these meetings, we were able to share the positive things that the Turkish Church is experiencing. In the Muslim-majority West Asian nation, the Catholic Church represents 0.07 percent of the population. “But even though we are an absolute minority,” says the archbishop, “we live intensely to confirm our presence in this land, formerly a land of Christianity.”
Courage and hope
After the January 28 attack at the Church of the Nativity of Our Lady in Büyükdere, in the Sariyer district north of Istanbul, which cost the life of a 52-year-old man, the faithful are increasingly afraid. That criminal act “was also designed with the aim of terrorizing all Christians in the country,” Archbishop Kmetec said. Nonetheless, he said he remains convinced that “our church communities cannot remain in a state of prostration and fear. I have said it many times and I repeat it: life must resume with courage and hope.” It is a hope that prompts the archbishop to outline a view of the near future full of interesting missionary insights: “There are many ecclesial possibilities to create activities hitherto not considered. But we must do everything with great humility, without making too much noise.”
Rebuilding, new challenges
The Church in Turkey is also working on another challenge: healing the wounds caused by the earthquake in 2023, which also struck Syria, and resulted in tens of thousands of deaths. “Caritas Turkey and Caritas Anatolia are doing everything they can to help, according to their capabilities. But the churches that collapsed, including Iskenderun Cathedral, are still waiting for the necessary formalities so that reconstruction can begin. I am sure that with our authorities a satisfactory solution will be found for everyone,” concluded Archbishop Kmetec.