12/23/2020, 16.16
Turkey
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Bishop Rubén Tierrablanca, man of dialogue, dies from COVID-19 in Istanbul

by Dario Salvi

After three weeks in intensive care, the vicar apostolic of Istanbul and president of the Bishops' Conference passed away on Monday. Bishop Bizzeti describes him as a “quiet, kind and welcoming pastor” committed to boosting the diocesan life of the local Church.

 

Istanbul (AsiaNews) – Bishop Rubén Tierrablanca González, Apostolic Vicar of Istanbul and President of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of Turkey, died on Monday from complications related to COVID-19. The 68-year-old prelate was hospitalised three weeks ago and put on a ventilator.

He was “A man devoted to interfaith dialogue, especially with Sufi Muslims with whom he had developed close relations,” said Bishop Paolo Bizzetti, apostolic vicar of Anatolia and president of Caritas Turkey.

“For many years he was vicar general of Bishop Louis Pelâtre, so he was well aware that the Church of Turkey is a small minority, without legal recognition, but of great value. He loved being in this country, even though he knew its limits.”

Bishop Bizzeti was also seriously ill with COVID-19 but is now recovering. He said that he was “always kept informed of Bishop Tierrablanca’s conditions.”

“Unfortunately, the long medically induced coma was not a positive sign. We hoped for a reaction after he received a new experimental drug last week”; instead, “his body gave way”. The virus got the better of him.

“We were friends,” Bishop Bizetti said. “When I came to Istanbul, I went to stay with him. He was a pastor, but above all he was a quiet, kind and welcoming man. I never saw him angry or nervous; he knew how to carry out his task with humility, even as president of the Bishops’ Conference . . . He was such an amiable man!”

“He liked Turkey’s cultural diversity, history, ancient religiosity. He had come to Istanbul with a plan formulated by the Franciscans centred specifically on interfaith dialogue, which he led. At the same time, he never forgot the hardships Christians face as a minority” in this country. More importantly, he “was not a man to dither when confronted with problems or difficulties.”

Bishop Rubén Tierrablanca González was born on 24 August 1952 in Cortazar, central Mexico. In April 2016 he became apostolic vicar as well as apostolic administrator of Constantinople of the Greeks in Turkey’s business capital, but he had arrived in the country in 2003. In 2018 he was appointed president of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of Turkey.

In his youth he attended the Franciscan minor seminary and entered the novitiate on 22 August 1970. He made his solemn profession on 2 August 1977, and was ordained into the priesthood the following year.

The apostolic vicar of Istanbul “was a realist; he had no illusions” and “picked the issues on which to work” to foster the growth of the local Church. This required, first of all, “boosting diocesan life, which involves many religious from abroad, especially Europe and the West.” For this reason, “he was committed to building up the local community, finding people to serve the Vicariate of Istanbul.”

‘For the faithful, the loss is a source of great sorrow. At the same time, we are conscious that this man arrived in heaven on the eve of Christmas.” 

For the apostolic vicar of Anatolia and president of Caritas Turkey, “three aspects of Bishop Tierrablanca’s mission will remain: the man of dialogue and collaboration, at synodal level as well; the constant search for dialogue with other religions, based on respect and acceptance; and the desire to build up the Church of Turkey at the diocesan level by increasing pastoral care and responsibilities.”

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