Turkey: Christian Community in Danger After the Earthquake

Source: FSSPX News

Bishop Paolo Bizzeti

The Christian community in the areas affected by the earthquake “is in great danger,” due to a situation of “great despair.” The faithful remaining in Antioch, the heart of the earthquake, can be counted “on the fingers of two hands” and, in addition to daily needs, it is necessary to rebuild the social fabric of “housing, school and work, otherwise people will leave.”

This was explained to AsiaNews by Bishop Paolo Bizzeti, vicar of Anatolia, a region that still shows the wounds inflicted by the dramatic earthquake of February 6. From June 13 to 15 in Iskenderun, the vicariate organized a meeting to discuss the situation and define the interventions and activities for the coming weeks, in a setting where the great needs remain.

Bishop Bizzeti explains, “Christians are no different from other minorities, they suffer from the problems of everyone: housing, work, school, daily life. It will take years to sort it all out. Even today, it is difficult to say what can be done from the outside to help them, it is essential to remember that the roots of Christianity are in these places.”

Western churches, he adds, “should sensitize and interest their governments, so that they take to heart and contribute to preserving the Christian presence in the Middle East. I am talking about serious policies that should be on the agenda.”

The February 6 earthquake remains an open wound, with a still serious emergency situation in 11 major centers in the south and southeast of the country. The death toll has exceeded 50,000 (plus 8,000 reported by Damascus), but the numbers are not final. There are more than 160,000 collapsed or badly damaged buildings, and more than two million people displaced in an emergency situation. Added to this are the missing, whose number is not precisely known.

In the first phase of the emergency, the Vicariate of Anatolia and Caritas Turkey ensured the distribution of water, food, blankets, clothes, medicines, cleaning materials, to the bishop's residence in Iskenderun, in the streets and in the first camps. To this were added school tents for a minimum of schooling and development of children in a context of great need.

Secondly, the Church provided tents, equipment, camp kitchens, bathhouses, canteen containers and utensils, fans, and refrigerators. During the first 3 months, almost 55,000 families received basic aid, as well as psychological assistance, educational support, and medical care.

In the Hatay region, the most affected, “a large part of the population has been displaced and does not intend to return anytime soon,” explains the vicar of Anatolia. “Many want to come back,” he continues, “but it is impossible to know when. In the Antioch region, it is not yet possible to rebuild, and people are preparing to stay away from home for a long time.”

“Others have stayed in the area and are living in tent camps or shantytowns. They need everything: food, fans, and cooling facilities – with the arrival of the hot season, in tents, the climate is scorching. There is also the problem of food storage, and it is on these tasks that Caritas is focusing its efforts today.”

According to a first estimate, about 20% of the original population is still in the most affected area, and the Church has made efforts in the last period to provide workers and craftsmen with tools and equipment to get back to work,” explains Msgr. Bizzeti.

The delays will be “inevitably long,” he warns, because each step is controlled by the government “and nothing can be done without permits” issued after a complex bureaucratic process, especially in an emergency situation. Finally, there are children, young people, and schools, which remain “one of the most affected categories” after the suffering and the months lost due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

“This generation,” concludes Bishop Bizzeti, “is destined to live a very precarious school experience, to which are added the psychological traumas of the health emergency first and then the earthquake emergency. However, time and resources are lacking even to think about psychology and it is a constant struggle to survive.”