Apostolic Vicar of Turkey: We don’t want to proselytize, only legally open parishes

Turkey has played an increasingly central role in the last few years of the crisis in the Middle East. Beyond political and territorial issues, it is the country that has welcomed the highest number of Syrian and Iraqi refugees. However, the situations of these migrants in these lands differ one from the other. The plight of Iraqi Christians stands out. Their rights are limited to the point that they can’t cultivate their own faith because of a lack of people to help them meet their needs.

MSGR. PAOLO BIZZETI
Apostolic Vicar of Anatolia

“We don’t have any Arabic-speaking priest, who can be a shepherd for these Christians. It’s a difficult situation, because young Iraqi Christians don’t understand. They ask themselves why the Western Christian world doesn’t help them.” “Many weren’t even able to celebrate Christmas. Many won’t be able to celebrate Easter. There was only one Chaldean priest who would go to these cities, but his parents have been abducted, so he is currently dealing with that situation.”

Msgr. Paolo Bizzeti is the Apostolic Vicar of Anatolia. He explains there is an added difficulty preventing the Catholic Church from fulfilling its mission.

MSGR. PAOLO BIZZETI
Apostolic Vicar of Anatolia

“For us, it is impossible to open cultural centers, youth centers, schools or a chapel. These Christians are spread throughout many cities in Turkey. They are far away from these churches. That’s why the situation remains a dramatic one.”

This circumstance is due to a historical anomaly which took place nearly 100 years ago: the Treaty of Lausanne, signed in 1923, after World War I. The peace agreement put together by modern-day Turkey does not recognize the Catholic Church, which is why the latter doesn’t have a juridical person.

MSGR. PAOLO BIZZETI
Apostolic Vicar of Anatolia
“This treaty declares which Christian confessions are recognized, such as the Armenians and the Orthodox. Even the Jews are included. Other Christian confessions are not recognized. This issues was brought up during the last days of negotiations for the treaty. It was left unresolved, with the intent to address it in the future. However, nothing was ever done, so the Catholic Church currently has no legal recognition. It has no juridical person.” “There is an urgent need to revise the treaty so that it grants these minorities a place for their faith communities. We don’t want to proselytize, but we want to care for our sheep.”

These Christians are not allowed to open worship centers. The government also holds the power to confiscate already existing centers if they lack a priest or community to care for them.

The Church in Turkey may be small, but it has huge possibilities of being revitalized thanks to the refugees. Nevertheless, its strength is limited, and it lives in a context that poses many obstacles to its growth.