For Syriac Catholics, Hope Prevails in Turkey
In his homily, the patriarch referred to the verse, ‘Look at Him and trust in Him’ inscribed in Syriac over the cross raised behind the altar, telling the faithful: ‘Our eyes are always on the crucified Jesus, and in Him we place all our hope.’
BEIRUT — From the patriarchate in Beirut, Lebanon, Syriac Catholic Patriarch Ignatius Joseph III Younan made a historic pastoral visit to Turkey, particularly to areas that were the cradle of Syriac Christianity.
As always, he urged the faithful to continue bearing witness to their faith in the land of their fathers and forefathers, despite challenges.
“I thank the Lord Jesus Lord for gratifying me to make this sixth 8-day pastoral visit to Turkey,” Patriarch Younan told the Register of the Oct. 12-19 trip. Stops included Istanbul; Mardin; Tur Abdin; Ephesus and Ankara, where the patriarch met with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
From Istanbul, the patriarch was accompanied by a group of 150 faithful, including the apostolic nuncio, bishops and priests. The delegation went to Mardin, a city in the southeast of Turkey, which forms, with its villages, the Anatolian cradle of the Syriac Church of Antioch.
“I re-consecrated the church of our monastery of Saint Ephrem there, which was confiscated for the past 100 years and turned into a stable for soldiers,” Patriarch Younan told the Register.
“Then we had the joy of ordaining a new priest who will be a missionary assistant for our scattered Syriac Catholic communities,” the patriarch said.
Born in Hassake, Syria, Patriarch Younan’s parents were survivors of genocide when, as little children, they had fled to Syria from Southeast Turkey with their mothers in 1918. The roots of his family originate in Qal’ at Mara, near Mardin.
“Such a visit to the ancestral land, from which our Christians have been uprooted the last century, is always full of emotions, questions and calls to strengthen our faith and hope in our Lord, who told us to keep strong and fear nothing, because He will always remain with his Church,” the patriarch pointed out.
Over a period of three days, the patriarch led the pastoral visit to Marin and Tur Abdin, the land of Syriac forefathers.
“Mardin was until the First World War a flourishing city, where thousands of Christian families lived and worked mainly in the free artisanal sector. It is very sad to see our churches and monasteries empty, while they in the past were well populated, despite all the discriminations,” Patriarch Younan said.
For the re-consecration of the church of the Syriac Catholic Monastery of Saint Ephrem, large crowds of believers attended, stretching to the monastery and church courtyards.
The restored church, which dates back to 1884, is the fruit of “diligent monks who built it and prayed in it, and always looked at the crucified Jesus,” the patriarch told the faithful.
In his homily, the patriarch referred to the verse, ”Look at Him and trust in Him” inscribed in Syriac over the cross raised behind the altar, telling the faithful “our eyes are always on the crucified Jesus, and in Him we place all our hope.”
In Mardin, the patriarch also celebrated the Divine Liturgy at the Cathedral of the Virgin Mary and ordained a priest.
“This priestly ordination in our cathedral church in Mardin was very significant, because it’s the first in more than 110 years. It was certainly a celebration full of joy, emotions and tears,” Patriarch Younan said.
“The new priest, Jimmy, of Turkish nationality and father of two children, will help our Patriarchal Vicar of Turkey in Istanbul, and will serve as a missionary in Mardin and Iskandaroun,” the patriarch said. (As in many Eastern Catholic rites, a married Syriac Catholic man can be ordained a priest.)
During his homily, ahead of the ordination according to the Syriac Antiochan rite, which took place before Communion, the patriarch addressed the future priest, saying, “You represent the youth of our church. It is true that we look to the past, the past of our fathers and grandfathers who suffered a lot for the love of the Lord Jesus, but the youth are waiting for you to testify to them of their faith in the Lord Jesus, and for you to help them to return to living hope.”
Noting that his role as a missionary priest “is a very great responsibility for a young priest,” the patriarch encouraged the soon-to-be priest, reminding him of the words of Saint Paul, the Apostle of the nations: “my grace is sufficient for you.”
“The great majority of the faithful who accompanied me from Istanbul to Mardin were Syriac Catholics. They number in Istanbul over 1,200 people, who were born in Mardin, a city so tried for the past century and only has a few hundred of Christians left who are served by a single priest,” Patriarch Younan told the Register.
“Our biggest challenge is how to inspire young Turkish people with faith and hope, that Jesus wants them to stay in their ancestral land despite oppressions and challenges. On the other hand, the temptation to emigrate to the West arouses alarm among parents, because the said democracy of Western culture based on extreme secularization, constitutes a real danger for living the Christian the faith and ethics among our young people,” Patriarch Younan pointed out.
The Syriac Catholic Church continues to face emigration to the West of its faithful from Syria, Iraq and Lebanon.
As for his official meeting with the Turkish president, Patriarch Younan told the Register: “With God's help and thanks to our Patriarchal Vicar and his council in Turkey, I could realize that meeting with success and with no political intent.”
He noted to President Erdogan that it is his sixth time to visit Turkey as patriarch “knowing that it is the birthplace of our people who were displaced from Mardin to Syria.”
The Turkish president had said to Patriarch Younan during their official meeting: “It is well known and certain that Syriacs are part of Turkey, and we are working to make full use of their rights, just like the rest of the citizens. We have done our best to enable citizens, of whatever religion they belong to, to practice their religious rites freely.”
President Erdogan also said: “We have improved the conditions of endowments belonging to various religious groups, and we are continuing this effort with regard to improving the rights and property belonging to endowments.”
Of his meeting with Erdogan, the patriarch shared that “I had to thank the president for his assertions to respect and protect Turkish minorities and for his promise to return to us our patriarchal seat of Mardin, that was once confiscated and turned into a museum. We hope that the process of returning this our patriarchate will be finalized within the next year, as proof of justice and concrete tolerance.”
The patriarch also made an official visit to Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, the Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Constantinople at his patriarchal seat in Istanbul.
“It was a very fraternal meeting,” Patriarch Younan told the Register.
“I can also say the same for the visit made afterwards to the Patriarch of the Armenian Orthodox Apostolic Church. In both visits we prayed together in their respective churches, that the Lord Jesus hasten the day of the visible unity among Christians in Turkey, where we lived the ecumenism of the blood. The Lord indeed recommended us to remain united in Him, loving each other, that the world would recognize us as His disciples,” Patriarch Younan said.
Other visits during Patriarch Younan’s trip to Turkey included: The papal embassy in Ankara; with the governor of Istanbul; the Archdiocese of the Syriac Orthodox Patriarchal Vicariate in Istanbul; the monastery of Zaafaran near Mardin, which is the old seat of the Syriac Patriarch; the (Syriac Orthodox) Church of the Forty Martyrs, St. Hormez Chaldean Catholic Church and St. Joseph Armenian Catholic Church, all in Mardin; the historic town of Qal’ at Mara, near Mardin and the ancient Syriac Orthodox monastery of Saint Gabriel (Deir Al-Omar) in Tur Abdin.
“We concluded our historic visit to Turkey, with a joyful Divine Liturgy of the Mass in the house of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Ephesus,” the patriarch said.
In his homily at Ephesus, the patriarch prayed to the Lord, through the intercession of the Virgin Mary “to bring peace, security and stability to the whole world, especially in the countries martyred because of wars and conflicts.”
He noted in his homily that “the harvest is indeed abundant, but unfortunately the doers are few in this country. Let us pray that the doers can spread this good news and teach the Lord Jesus, through the intercession of the Virgin Mary, with love towards all, and in peace building solid and firm bridges between all countries, peoples and individuals.”
“We were well confident that our Heavenly Mother well understood our prayers and beseeches, addressed in her original language, Syriac-Aramaic,” the patriarch told the Register.
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