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With patient steps
Towards the juridical recognition of the Catholic Church
The time-honoured question of the juridical recognition of the Catholic Church in Turkey was at the heart of the hearing of the President of the Turkish Bishops’ Conference (CET) Msgr. Ruggero Franceschini before Turkey’s “Grand Assembly” (the Turkish Parliament), on April 16. The meeting took place on the initiative of the Turkish Ambassador to the Holy See, Kenan Gürsoy, states a CET release. The delegation led by Msgr. Franceschini, consisted in Msgr. Louis Pelâtre, apostolic vicar of Istanbul, Msgr. Georges Khazzoum (representing Armenian Catholics), Msgr. Yusuf Sað (Syriac Catholics) and by CET spokesman Rinaldo Marmara. On February 20th, the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople Bartholomew I addressed a parliamentary panel tasked with drawing up Turkey’s new Constitution. In his meeting with the Committee the Ecumenical Patriarch submitted various pledges including the recognition of religious communities as legal persons, to enable the purchase of property and receive Community funding.
The CET release. The meeting “marked by a serene climate, bides well for the future… With patience, the talks between the two sides suggest there is a chance of finding an agreement”. In a short release the Turkish Bishops’ Conference (CET) drew a balance of the parliamentary hearing at the Grand Assembly during which it presented “the problems and the issues to be introduced in the new Constitutions that is being drawn up”. As is known, “the Latin Catholic Church asks that its legal status be acknowledged as a Church in Turkey”. “Government representatives – states the CET communiqué – made known that the claim cannot be introduced within the new Consitution but it can be acknowledged with a special law. The next meetings will focus on the problems of Church property, schools, hospitals, and other assets the Latin Catholic Church currently owns.
A positive climate. “There was a very positive atmosphere with regard to our main request, that is to obtain the juridical recognition of the Church in Turkey. I believe the Government’s representatives were right in saying that this request does not depend on the new Constitution but it can be accepted with a special law”. CET president and Archbishop of Smirne Msgr. Ruggero Franceschini, told SIR Europe, commenting on the CET hearing at the Turkish parliament, the “grand Assembly”. “The next meetings – the prelate explained - will focus on problems related to property owned by Churches, schools, hospitals, and other assets of which the Latin Church currently owns property rights granted by the Sultan or by the Republic until 1936. It takes time and patience, and it is not easy”. A juridical recognition would enable the Church to recover a lot of property, thus facilitating also pastoral activity. “Unfortunately – said the CET president – ours is a very small Church. We need more ordained and lay staff not only to celebrate Mass celebration but also to carry out ordinary pastoral care. To have a Pastoral Vicar here in Turkey is a dream. All those things that are part of ordinary procedures in a Western Church, here in Turkey become indispensable and precious”. Adds Msgr. Franceschini: “In addition to my archdiocese in Smirne I am also in charge of the Apostolic Vicarage of Anatolia, where Msgr. Padovese served. It’s a very important ecclesiastic province, not only because it is three times larger than the diocese of Milan (ten priests, five nuns and a few volunteers), but especially because it’s the place where the Church was born and from where brought the Gospel to the rest of the world. If this Church isn’t given the possibility of coming together, of meeting, they risk vanifying the precious ‘treasure’ cherished: the heritage of the Apostles”.
A Constitution as a mother. A Constitution that may be “as a mother that embraces all of her children. As Christian citizens we demand the same rights as Muslim Turkish citizens”, said the Patriarchal Exarch Yusuf Sað, leader of Turkey’s Syriac-Catholic Church, after the meeting. Our hope is that “the new Constitution may highlight all freedoms. We want a constitution that will embrace everyone, like a mother does with her children. Our expectations are the same as those of Turkish Muslims. As Syriac Christians who have been living in this land for the past 4500 years we expect to have the same rights of Muslim Turkish citizens”.