04/03/2023, 16.00
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Bishop Bizzeti and Italian volunteers in Iskenderun to share with earthquake survivors

Nearly two months after the earthquake, many survivors are still looking for ways to go abroad or other parts of the country. The first shops and businesses reopen in Iskenderun. Yesterday, Palm Sunday celebrations brought together Turkish and foreigner Christians. Young people from Italy are helping amid the rubble. For a university student from Florence, what he saw “made an impression”.

Iskenderun (AsiaNews) – Neary two months after a devastating earthquake struck Turkey and Syria, sowing death and destruction ( 57,000 dead), “many people have left, while others are looking for ways to leave because it is not easy to live in tents,” this according to Bishop Paolo Bizzeti, apostolic vicar to Anatolia.

The region hit by the earthquake on 6 February is still in full emergency and things remain precarious. For many people, “It is not easy to depend on aid" and the desire to escape is still strong "among those who can”.

At present, the prelate is coordinating the work of Italian volunteers who travelled to Turkey to help survivors over the Easter holiday inspired by a sense of “solidarity and sharing”.

“In Turkey, family ties are strong,” Bishop Bizzetti explained. “Those who have relatives abroad or people who can host them" leave Turkey; others "move to cities not too far from the areas where they used to live” relying on contacts and acquaintances.

In Iskenderun (Alexandretta), "some shops and businesses are reopening" and things look decidedly less complicated than in Antioch, which is ground zero. Palm Sunday services were held yesterday "with local and foreign Christians united in faith."

"In Antioch, there are no places to celebrate and even the Capuchin friars have left. In some areas, it is not yet clear if and how Easter will be held.”

On the one hand, huge amounts of rubble must still be removed; on the other, quicker “help for building and reconstruction" with less red tape remain a great challenge. "Everything has to go through a government coordination committee and there is little possibility of individual initiative."

For Bishop Bizzetti, rebuilding villages "with prefabricated houses" and putting a roof over the heads of the displaced are "complicated" undertakings because "permits are needed from the authorities" and the latter are a slow. Indeed, with huge needs, time “is one of the main obstacles”.

“It is clear that coordination is needed, but it is one thing to organise the work, and another to create a funnel through which every activity must go".

Following the quake, the association Amici del Medio Oriente (Friends of the Middle East, AMO), an Italian non-profit NGO, launched an initiative titled “E ora rialzo la mia testa” (Even now my head is held high), taken from Psalm 27. It involves volunteers going to the quake zone for the Easter week (2-9 April) to "serve" others and share the celebration, which can provide a chance for rebirth.

“This idea came from a Jesuit confrere, Fr Francesco Cavallini, who is a member of AMO. We decided to invite young people to share this experience with local Christians, combining service and celebrations during Holy Week.”

A dozen young people from different parts of Italy joined the initiative and more are expected. “Now they are setting up the liturgical material, the books to be archived and catalogued. Food must be sent to warehouses, and from there to where it is needed".

Francesco Busoni, a 20-year-old university student in Florence, is one of the people who accepted AMO’s call. "Less than a week ago, a friend showed me the ad,” he said, “inviting me to live an experience in which the earthquake victims would do much more for me than I would for them. This sounded like an amazing personal experience, so I jumped at the opportunity.”

“I arrived in Adana and along the way to Iskenderun where I am now I saw entire towns and villages razed to the ground.” Two months after the quake, “cars were still buried under the rubble, collapsed houses still had clothes hanging out to dry.”

The sight of things “made an impression” on the student.

"Yesterday I went to a large camp with tents and saw children taking lessons outdoors, because their school had collapsed,” he said.

“Even at a time of celebration, we realise how everyday life can never be taken for granted. But now I’ve got to because we have to fix the wall of the church and move some objects.”

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