08/10/2023, 22.03
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Danyel, from Antakya to the WYD: Pope gave the 'courage' to 'be reborn' after the earthquake

by Dario Salvi

The 17-year-old was part of the Turkish delegation at the World Youth Day in Lisbon. The memory of the earthquake is still alive and the impact of the destruction it caused "is still huge today". The meeting with Francis gave him the strength to "be courageous" and reborn "like Jesus". For the vicar general of Anatolia, the young are “living stones with which we shall fix place the collapsed stones of the cathedral".

Milan (AsiaNews) – Turkey is "slowly recovering" from February’s tragic earthquake, with its burden of death and destruction, but "I cannot say the same about my city, Antakya" where "the impact is still huge today,” said Danyel Murt speaking with AsiaNews.

The 17-year-old was with the Turkish delegation that participated in the 37th World Youth Day, held from 2 to 6 August in Lisbon, Portugal. During his stay, he met with Pope Francis and his peers from all over the world, finding the strength to rebuild.

Here the pontiff’s words "come into play”. In the private meeting on 3 August at the nunciature on the sidelines of the official schedule of WYD, the pontiff spoke to the youth from different parts of Turkey; “he told us to ‘be courageous’! I believe that we shall be courageous and we shall be reborn like Jesus.”

The young man is from Antakya (Antioch), the heart of the devastation caused by the earthquake that struck Turkey and Syria on 6 February, killing almost 60,000 people forcing hundreds of thousands to become displaced in the country and abroad. He has a 22-year-old brother. After the earthquake, he spent time with the rest of his family in Mersin, before moving to İskenderun (Alexandretta) where they live now.

 Fr Antuan Ilgıt, vicar general of the Apostolic Vicariate of Anatolia who contributed to the interview, attends the local parish church, and takes part in the Mass at a chapel that survived the quake, while the cathedral still bears the scars of the devastation.

" Danyel enlivens the Masses playing the guitar,” the vicar said. “As head of youth ministry I follow him" in his path of growth. He is "active, and takes part in meetings". He is in his last year of high school and is preparing for the university entrance exam, to study engineering, because "he dreams of becoming the CEO of a multinational company".

The days spent at WYD in Lisbon, notes Fr Antuan, "made the kids very happy, because they felt valued, listened to and not forgotten. They returned to Turkey full of hope for their future and that of the Church of Turkey. They are living stones with which we shall fix the collapsed stones of the cathedral. As Bishop Paolo Bizzeti (the vicar of Anatolia) said along the lines of the pope's words: “Young Christians of Turkey will be the light of the nation.'"

Here is the interview with the young Turkish man who took part in the WYD in Lisbon:

What do you remember of the private meeting with Pope Francis? What emotions did you experience and what impressed you?

I was nervous and stressed when I entered the hall where the pope was going to receive us, I was nervous, but when he came in I felt a great peace. It was as if we were disciples of Jesus and the pope had brought us the Holy Spirit of the Lord. It was like I was with someone I had known for years, chatting with him. It was also a friend's birthday and he celebrated it with him and cut a cake. This was proof of his closeness.

What did the time at the WYD represent for you and what moment struck you the most?

For me it represented unity and living together as a community. At the time, in Lisbon, I was able to fully experience it. The moment that struck me most was when everyone gathered to listen to the pope's homily and he told us: "Be courageous." Because this word has a great importance in my life.

Danyel, how would you describe meeting young Catholics from all over the world?

The greatest value of this gathering is that we are all one heart and come together in the name of the Lord. I met and talked to many people, but what struck me most was when I interacted with our Jordanian brothers and sisters with whom we travelled together (from Italy to Portugal via Spain in a kind of ideal pilgrimage), and for the away we got together under one roof and spent time together as a congregation, even though we had problems and difficulties, because of the many cultural differences.

The pope addressed young people repeatedly, urging them to "have courage, not to be afraid" and to "bear witness” to their experience when they go back. How will you respond to this call?

“Be brave, be unafraid!" These words, this exhortation has a special place in my life, because I grew up with the word of the Lord since I was a child, and it is one of the most common words for us. In my life I have been successful in many activities that I have undertaken, trusting precisely in the Lord's help.

Thus, I bear witness to this word, to this appeal to courage, and upon returning to my country, to Turkey, these experiences will be part of me, something to share with others.

Speaking about Turkey, especially your home town of Antakya (Antioch), how are things six months after February’s devastating earthquake?

As a country we are slowly recovering, but I cannot say the same about my city, Antakya. In fact, the impact of the destruction is still huge today. In addition to the dead, the city is upside down and I am sorry to say that it will take longer to recover than other places, but this is where the pope’s words come into play, when he told us "be courageous!” I believe that we shall be courageous and we shall be reborn like Jesus, under the guidance of the leaders of our Church and Fr Antuan, who is part of us.

What do you remember of those tragic days and what remains today?

I woke up when the earthquake struck and my family and I hugged each other. My mother and brother were very frightened and I reassured them by saying, "Now, let’s pray."

The quake got more and more intense and we prayed aloud, reciting the Lord's Prayer over and over again as the earth continued to shake. At that moment I felt that the building was collapsing and I thought I was going to die, but somewhere inside me there was also a sense of peace, because I knew I was dying with my family and I was at peace because I would not see them leave before me. Then the earthquake stopped and we were all saved. The neighbours came out shouting and I helped the older ones, getting them down.

When I went downstairs, I saw that the building to our left had collapsed. Then I went to my best friend down the street a cabinet had fallen on his father's head. My friend was holding up the cupboard; if he let it go, it would block the door and they would be trapped in the house.

I went to help him hold the cupboard, and we moved it, then went out. This is what he told me: "If you had arrived 10 seconds late, I would have probably let it go and get trapped." We took refuge in a clearing, lit a fire, collecting wood for five days in a sheltered area with a family we did not know.

Given such a powerful experience like an earthquake, how important was it to feel part of a community, a Church?

Faith was very important during that tragic experience because only my family and the Lord were with me at the time. The day after the earthquake, when we came home to get some things, I was looking with frightened eyes and my gaze fell on the rosary at the foot of the bed.

All the dishes and cupboard had fallen, but the rosary was still there. That's why I took it and prayed for all my friends and relatives who were under the rubble and for those who died during the five days we were on the street.

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