“The Mediterranean has forgotten its vocation to hospitality”, the Vicar Apostolic in Turkey has lamented.

“The spirit remains. It is necessary to make it grow”

That hospitable Mediterranean spirit “has characterised European countries, as well as Italy, for years”, Bishop Rubén Tierrablanca González, also apostolic administrator in Istanbul and president of the Turkish Catholic Bishops, told SIR February 13.

“But they seem to have forgotten it owing to recent problems. Yet that spirit remains. It is necessary to encourage, support and make that vocation grow”.

The bishop in Turkey was reflecting on the “Mediterranean: frontier of peace” event sponsored by the Italian Bishops and to be held with Pope Francis and bishops from the countries around the Mediterranean in Bari from February 19-23.

An occasion, the bishop said, in which “the Mediterranean must rediscover its vocation to hospitality and peace”.

“Migrants are not always well received, but we do our best”

“I look forward to the meeting in Bari with great hope and I grateful to the Italian Bishops’ Conference for having promoted this initiative… It will be an opportunity for reflection, sharing, and creativity, paving the way to new paths”, Tierrablanca said.

As for the specific challenges for the local Turkish Church Tierrablanca is hoping the Bari ‘Synod’ will tackle, the bishop mentioned first of all the wave of 450,000 undocumented migrants and refugees that has overwhelmed the human and material resources of the Turkish Church, just 35,000 strong or 0.05% of the population.

“We [the Turkish Catholic Church] are guests… We have no legal recognition [in Turkey], therefore our activity is very limited. Nevertheless we do our best, and are actively engaged, while respecting the pertinent boundaries”, Tierrablanca said.

“We are ready to help… [and] Caritas Italy is providing support”, the bishop added, explaining however that helping immigrants is an extremely complex process.

“Many immigrants don’t not leave immediately for other countries. We had the experience of people from Iraq who arrived in Turkey as early as 1991, following the outbreak of the first Gulf War. 30 years have passed and they are still here, awaiting to move to another country”, Tierrablanca observed.

These long-term immigrants “live among the Turkish people and find it very hard to integrate into society. They are not always well received. So we must support them according to our possibilities”, the bishop insisted.

“No to arms trafficking. In war everyone loses”

As a second challenge for the Bari meeting, Tierrablanca insisted the ‘Synod’ must tackle the scourge of war.

“It should be reiterated over and over again, our refusal to the manufacturing and trafficking of weapons that fuel conflict, is never enough. In war everyone loses. War is never just”, the bishop warned.

Borders, the wages of power and oppression

Tierrablanca concluded reflecting on the phenomenon of fear of migrants in host countries: a consequence, he said, of lack of mutual knowledge and respect.

“Sometimes different cultural traditions and religious affiliations, when they don’t know each other, cause fear and give rise to negative reactions of self-protection and closure.

“This phenomenon must be properly understood.

“But we are the ones who erected the borders and often those borders were not planned and established with justice. What do they respond to? To a culture? They frequently respond to power, they are the result of oppression, sometimes military.

“The Christian vision of the world is different and it is based on the belief that the whole human family belongs to a common home. Perhaps we should reflect on the origins of these problems”.

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PhD in ancient Jewish/Christian history and philosophy. University ethics lecturer with 4 years' experience in religion journalism.