“This really is a land of opportunity for a Church wishing to become missionary again”.

That’s how Italian-born missionary Paolo Bizzeti has described Turkey, a country in which he says the mass arrival of refugees has opened up “a new historic chapter for Christianity”.

Driving the news

Bizzeti was speaking to Milan-based Famiglia Cristiana weekly.

In comments reported by The Tablet, the Jesuit, who is the apostolic vicar of Anatolia, said “the presence of Christian refugees has… opened up an enormous opportunity for the Church”.

“But the Church is accustomed to being closed within its own borders, and no missionary work has been done”.

Go deeper

Turkey’s estimated 170,000-strong Christian minority has long complained of religious harrassment, including in the recruitment of clergy, the establishment of associations and the concession of building permits.

The Roman Catholic Church in the country – made up of some 25,000 souls spread over some 54 parishes and 13 pastoral centres in seven dioceses and apostolic vicariates – is not alone in having fallen prey, too, to attacks ranging from vandalism to the confiscation of Church properties.

That’s not to mention the murders of Church leaders like Italian priest Andrea Santoro in 2006 or Bishop Luigi Padovese in 2010.

Little wonder then, as Bizzeti said, that Catholics have “increasingly locked themselves up in churches and convents”.

Even despite the Protestant denominations flourishing with publishing ventures and with new radio and TV networks.

Why it matters

“We need priests, nuns and laypeople who can help with the formation and daily pastoral care of Christians, which is made more complex by great distances”, alerted the bishop.

“Some families have preferred to lose everything rather than deny their faith – but they lack a proper Christian education and we’re not equipped to meet their pastoral needs”.

Turkey currently hosts around 3.6 million refugees, the world’s largest amount for a single country.

And even if not all are Christian, Bizzeti said he thought the influx could be a new beginning for the Turkish Church.

“We also have Muslims who don’t intend to convert but wish to learn more about Christianity and help us convey its true values to Turkish society”, the bishop explained.

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