11/26/2023, 16.07
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Auxiliary Bishop Ilgit of Anatolia: young people and dialogue to rise again after the earthquake

by Mgr Antuan Ilgit *

In an exclusive account, AsiaNews is publishing the thoughts of the Turkish prelate who was ordained bishop yesterday. He is committed to dialogue, rebuilding, and working to consolidate the local Church. In his homily, the vicar of Istanbul noted the new bishop can be “an instrument of consolation and a messenger of hope” to a community marked by the earthquake. Today he had lunch with Orthodox Patriarch Bartholomew and led his first Mass with young people.

Istanbul (AsiaNews) – The appointment of Antuan Ilgit as the new auxiliary bishop of the Apostolic Vicariate of Anatolia represents a "new page" in the history of the Turkish Church, which will inspire "new vocations" to "consolidate a Turkish clergy", this according to the new prelate himself who was ordained yesterday in Istanbul since “our cathedral collapsed in the earthquake" of 6 February. The new bishop is equally committed to young people, in post-earthquake reconstruction starting with the cathedral, and in ecumenical and interfaith dialogue.

The ordination took place in the Basilica of St Anthony of Padua in Istanbul, in the presence of Bishop Paolo Bizzeti, Vicar Apostolic of Anatolia (who led the ceremony), Apostolic Nuncio Marek Solczyński and Bishop Massimiliano Palinuro, Vicar Apostolic of Istanbul. Those who attended the service included Turkish Christians, refugees, African students, catechumens, and beginners. The celebration involved Turkey’s Christian community, plus friends and Catholics from the Middle East, the United States, and Italy.

In his homily, Bishop Massimiliano Palinuro noted that today we celebrate the Solemnity of Christ the King, stressing that the ordination is a "pledge of rebirth for the Church of Anatolia" and a people "tried" by the terrible "disaster" of the earthquake.

"In communion with Bishop Paul, as his auxiliary bishop, you are called to serve desperate people who are waiting for support from the Lord and his Church to rebuild what the earthquake has destroyed,” said the Vicar Apostolic of Istanbul addressing the new prelate.

“Amid a people devastated by the tragedy of the earthquake, may you be an instrument of consolation and a messenger of hope. With a father's love, encourage those who have lost everything and support those who have the task of rebuilding the material structures and human relationships that the earthquake has destroyed."

Today, Orthodox Patriarch Bartholomew I invited Bishop Ilgit for lunch at the patriarchate, followed at 5:30 pm by the celebration of his first Mass as bishop in Istanbul’s Holy Spirit Cathedral in the presence of a group of young people to mark the 38th Turkish World Youth Day centred on the theme: "Rejoice in hope" (Rom 12:12).

Here is the reflection of the newly appointed bishop:

The episcopal ordination is a beautiful novelty and a new page in the history of the Catholic Church in Turkey, which give great hope. I am very grateful to Pope Francis for the trust he has placed in me and, through me, in the young people of the Church in Turkey. I hope that this will be the beginning of a new era in which new vocations will arise to consolidate a Turkish clergy.

At the same time, we must be realistic. While we pray to the Lord to give labourers for his harvest, we must commit ourselves to accompanying young people and promoting vocations by getting involved with them. If there is no witness of life, if one does not leave the fences and go towards them, vocations are not born in dreams. It is also necessary to value the laity, the young couples who wish to serve the Church and the People of God in various ways and with great generosity; the Church is "also" made up of the laity, let us not forget that.

A Turkish Church

When the pope, at the audience granted to the group I was accompanying in Lisbon for World Youth Day, asked me "not to abandon young people" and not to lose "the humanity that distinguishes me," he had first and foremost the young people of Turkey in his heart, especially those from the earthquake-hit zones. He is the model I have in front of me; how he listened attentively to young people, their pains; let them express themselves as they wanted, respected their tears, and encouraged their dreams. Thus, I will continue my work with them, focusing on accompaniment, closeness, Christian and human training, and the promotion of their talents, also because they are the future of the Church and society.

Our communities are also made up of Christian refugees and African students who need to be welcomed, accompanied, and helped in various ways during their stay in Turkey. I will always try to be inclusive towards them, as Bishop Paolo Bizzeti has done serving the Church of Anatolia. In this respect I feel very lucky, because I am the auxiliary of a bishop with whom I share the same values and the same priorities.

The same thing is true for the other bishops of the Bishops' Conference. They welcomed me with great hope and I am preparing to work with them based on dialogue and respect. Whether we are foreign-born or native, we are all called to serve the one Church in Turkey. And we must do so with synodality, as the Holy Spirit is now saying to its Church through Francis’s magisterium. It is true that the bishops, the clergy of the Latin Church in this land, have always come from outside, but we must also acknowledge that they have loved the country, this "holy land", and it is thanks to them that our communities have moved forward and people like me have met the Lord.

Rebirth after the earthquake

Our vicariate has been very involved with earthquake victims. Through Caritas Anatolia we will continue to be close to the affected population. Do not think that the first emergency is already behind us; many families, especially refugees, are still living in tents and winter is just around the corner. At the same time, those who had to leave the cities try to return and resume their lives. They need to be helped, and we are there as much as we can. Once through the red tape, we must start rebuilding the cathedral soon. Just as there can be no cathedral without a community, so a community cannot be without its cathedral. Thus, as we rebuild the Christian community, we shall also rebuild the cathedral with living stones.

These lands, which are very dear to Christianity, cannot and must not be depopulated. We are close to other countries affected by wars, terrorism, and catastrophes, which have experienced for years a persistent loss of Christians. Our communities are worried about what is happening in Ukraine, Israel and Gaza, Syria as well as Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh. Every day, at every Mass, we pray for peace and dialogue. War is like a tumour that leads to metastasis, and while it causes unspeakable suffering, it tends to spread like wildfire. For this reason, we must continue to promote peace education and commit ourselves to encourage it in families and communities to spread a mindset of peace and dialogue.

Ecumenism and interfaith dialogue

On the topic of dialogue, the participation of the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople Bartholomew I, the Armenian Patriarch of Constantinople Sahak II, and the Syriac Orthodox and Greek Orthodox Metropolitans at my consecration gives me much hope for the ecumenical journey. It is the fruit of the great commitment made by the bishops of this land. Presently, I am just a humble beneficiary and now it is up to me to nurture these relationships, maintain them and improve them. Here, in this land, for centuries we have experienced dialogue and walked together in life, in everyday life, sharing the same fate, joys and sorrows. The same is true in a perspective of interfaith dialogue with Islam.

The chairman of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of Turkey, Archbishop Martin Kmetec, announced a few days ago that 2024 will be the Year of the Eucharist for the Turkish Church. The Eucharist is a precious gift from the Lord to his Church; with it we always become one body, we nourish ourselves and work generously with faith, hope and charity. I hope that the Eucharistic Year for Turkey, as Archbishop Kmetec stressed, will remind us that "after eating the Bread of Heaven we are called to share the earthly bread with all those who are in poverty and need." These words echo those the pope pronounced a few days ago: “Poverty is a scandal. When the Lord returns, he will settle accounts with us”.

In the bull with which he appointed me auxiliary bishop, the pope writes: "In receiving this office of bishop, be assured of the assistance of Christ the Supreme Shepherd, of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and of her most chaste Spouse Saint Joseph, as well as the favours of Saint Ignatius of Loyola, beloved son, remembering daily that of all things, charity is the greatest and will never end (cf. 1 Cor 13:8).”

Indeed, charity is born and nurtured by the Eucharist. May the heavenly Mother, under whose protection we take refuge and to whom I entrust my episcopal ministry, keep us safe, and accompany us towards her Son and our Lord. I continue to follow his Providence, which has never disappointed me and will never disappoint me.

* Titular bishop of Tubernuca and auxiliary bishop of the Apostolic Vicariate of Anatolia


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