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HISTORY OF CHRISTIANITY IN ADANA
Christianity came to Adana certainly already in the first century … Even if you do not find explicit evidence of this, in the entire area surrounding Adana you could find Christian communities. Moreover, we find that, as early as 325 AD, Adana had a bishop, Paulinus, and he took part in the Council of Nicaea. For this reason we have to believe Adana had a quite big cathedral and many Christians. In this time its bishop responded to the metropolitan headquarters of Tarsus and the Patriarchate of Antioch. We know that in 381 AD the bishop of Adana was Ciriaco. He not only took part in the II Ecumenical Council, which took place in Constantinople, but he was chosen as Senator Nectarius’ personal tutor. In fact, Nectarius was appointed bishop of Constantinople, again in 381 AD, and he wanted Ciriaco from Adana, to teach him all about Christian theology, since, until then, he was a catechumen and dealt mostly with civil matters. Ciraco was probably chosen also because Nectarius was born in the nearby Tarsus. According to St. John Chrysostom, who wrote to the successor of Ciriaco, Anatole, the city of Adana in the fourth and fifth centuries AD was a “quiet and peaceful town.” Anatole was a defender of Chrysostom’s ideas, although he still never met him, and this might be the reason why he was also exiled to Gaul. On the death of Theodosius (395 AD), Adana was part of the Byzantine Empire. The successor of Anatolio, Cyril, defended Nestorious’ ideas at the Council of Ephesus in 431 AD, even though he later tried to bring unity in the Church. However, he is the last known bishop of the Church of Adana, aside the controversial figure of Theophilus of Adana (538 AD). In fact, after 640 AD Adana was raided by the Arabs and was annexed to the Caliphate. It was conquered again in 964 AD by Basil II.
The strong Armenian presence
After the fall of Ani (1064) by the hand of Seljuk Arp Arslan, the Armenians of “Little Armenia” occupied Adana (1132) and the city was taken by the Armenian king of Cilicia (The Armenian Church split from the rest of the Church in VI century and therefore referred to as Gregorian). In 1173 the city returned under the Byzantines control. In 1266 it was raided by the Mamluks.
Adana passed in the hands of the Catholics of Sis. Among them, the best known is Stephen who distinguished himself between 1307 and 1316. Several councils happened in this city during the Armenian time: the most important occurred under Stephen in 1313. This council, confirming the decisions of the previous council of Sis (1286), expressed its favor about the reunification with the Catholic Church. It also introduced the Christmas feast in the liturgical calendar, to be held December 25 and to be distinguished from the Epiphany. In 1341, at the death of Leo V, the crown of Armenia had to go to Lusignan of Cyprus, but the Armenians elected their own king. In 1359 the Mamluks came back while Little Armenia continued to exist on the Taurus Mountains, until the annexation to the Ottoman Empire, by Selim I (1517). From 1832 to 1840 it went to Mehmet Ali the Egyptian.
The English version of the Catholic Encyclopedia, describing the situation of the early 1900s, says: today the Armenians in Adana are divided into Gregorian, Catholics and Protestants. For the Gregorians the city is the center of the 14/15 districts governed by Katolicòs Sis, represented in Adana by a bishop. For the Catholics here is an episcopal seat. With regard to the Protestants, Adana is a mission station of the Central Turkey Mission of the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions (about 1,000 members). American Presbyterian Church maintains this as a mission station under the care of the one in Tarsus. The total population amounts to 45,000 inhabitants during the two or three months of the cotton harvest. During the rest of the year the population does not exceed 30,000 residents: 14,000 Muslims, 12,575 Armenians, 3,425 Greeks and a few others minorities.
There are 18 mosques in the city, 37 Medresse and 8 Tekke, two Armenian churches, one Latin church (dedicated to St. Paul), one Greek and one Protestant church; 29 Turkish schools of which 28 are primary schools and a secondary school, two Greek schools, one Armenian school, one Protestant and two French schools, one directed by the Jesuit Fathers for boys and one conducted by the Sisters of St. Joseph of Lyon for girls (the latter included a school and a boarding school that hosted girls from Adana, Mersin and surroundings). In this last school, the scholars are very numerous: Armenian, Greek, Arabic, French and Italian. The Greek hierarchy is represented here by a prelate with the title of “Metropolitan of Tarsus and Adana”, and he resides in the old part of the city. His diocesan come from Cappadocia and from the Archipelago. They are very attached to Hellenism and prefer to stay under the Patriarchate of Constantinople rather than under that of Antioch. With the birth of the “Turkish Republic” (1923) the city began to grow both demographically and in its infrastructures.
After World War II, what was left in the city was only the Catholic church of St. Paul and that of the American base at Incirlik (1951) which is linked to a local American school (from elementary to university). The church in Adana, located in Tepebag area, was built in the late nineteenth century and entrusted to the Jesuits who lived in the very popular neighboring college.It is historically crucial the eyewitness testimony of the Fathers of the massacre in the school, April 1909 (there were 4000 refugees Gregorian Armenians and Catholics), reported by the famous magazine “The Catholic Civilization” (E. Rose, “The recent massacres Adana “in Civ. Catt. (1909), II, 740). The magazine considered the Western powers as complicit in that massacre, because, despite they were there at the time of the attack, they did not intervene to defend the Armenian population under threat and about 30,000 Armenians were slaughtered as a result. In this regard “The Catholic Civilization” wrote: “The civilization of modern Europe, particularly of secular France, stands still vigilant on these horrors and on their periodic renewal; without caring too much, it follows them from nearby, and at the end it sends its representatives to take notes and protest”.
Some years later, the influential Jesuits magazine again accused the Western governments, some of them Turkey’s allies and still unable to stop the slaughter; it said: “Many Catholics, tied together, came from a hill located in front of the town and were thrown into the river below. Among them, there was also a Catholic priest, d. Emmanuel Giukunian: for greater shame, he was tied to a dog and so pushed into the water to die drowned”. And again: “The Catholic bishops were all deported, some here, some there […]. Even the nuns were torn from their homes, some killed or injured, others deported” (“The renewed massacres of Armenians in 1914-15”, in Civ. Catt. (1915), III, 251).
Some articles from The New York Times, instead, gave more space to the testimonies of American Protestant missionaries. Their school, their mission and their business interests were destroyed. The Ottoman authorities denied the shooting of two American missionaries, DM Rogers and Henry Maurer, instead accusing the Armenians, who caught (they said) the Americans turning on fire the house of a Turkish widow. An opposition to this accusation was made by the American priest Stephen Trowbridge of Brooklyn, an eyewitness of the facts. Trowbridge reported that the men were killed “by the Muslims”.
Always in 1909 the school was again burned by the same authors of the massacre, with the reason that it gave shelter to the Armenians. The girls’ school was closed and the nuns found refuge in Mersin. Their property was not damaged and the school reopened in fall. The building of the male college was rebuilt and thirty Jesuits taught there, during different years. With the First World War (1914-18), the school remained closed. It reopened in 1919, but in May 1924 it definitively closed the doors. The charge was that it was a “denominational school”.
On October 20th, 1921, the Ankara Treaty between France and the Ankara government was signed to put an end to the conflict between the French and the Turkish for the control over the south eastern part of Anatolia. Among its agreements, there was also the evacuation of Armenians volunteers from Adana and from the main centers of Cilicia. In return, the Turkish government left France to work in Syria, through a mandate.
Still in 1940, the Jesuits from Istanbul kept the religious service during the year thanks to the p. Pasty, but they were compelled to sell the surrounding land to save at least the Church, having no longer way of subsistence. Some Turkish citizens of Adana told that the p. Pasty, twenty years later, was tortured all night by three men who tore one by one his beard hairs and, putting a knife to his throat, made him this threat: “in a week we will be back and if you’re still here we will cut your throat for real”. The Jesuits then left the church in 1968. The Nunciature gave the church to the Capuchin Fathers (March 27th), someone trusted.
|La chiesa di S. Paolo (1968 ca)
quando i Gesuiti lasciano il
loro incarico che passa ai Cappuccini
|Il vescovo di Smirne, mons. Bocella,
celebra le cresime e prime comunioni
alla base nord-americana (1970 ca)
The arrival of the Capuchin Fathers
The first to take care of the church was p. Gregory Simonelli. Since then, the Christians gather for Mass every Sunday. Father Roberto Ferrari, after 1986, built two rooms for the Brothers on the Church grandstand, and a dining room and a study room on the ground floor, since there was no possibility to build elsewhere. Moreover, the Church also had a beautiful marble altar. From January the 7th 1988, P. Vincenzo Succi settled there permanently: he remained there nine years, taking care not only of the parish and of service to the American base at Incirlik, but, above all, he took care of many disabled persons (twenty-two only in Adana), supporting them during sixty-eight surgeries and helping them to reintegrate into society. For several months, many people who regularly attended church were attacked, beaten and injured, the guilty remaining always unpunished; but when a French air force colonel, on duty at the base of Adana, was attacked, the criminals were identified, registered and rarely came back.
Many were direct attacks to P. Vincenzo, with absolutely unfounded accusations and fake stories. It was also set a fire that destroyed books and assets. Father Vincent was then forced to file a number of complaints; he won the processes but without receiving any kind of compensation. He was also shot and luckily missed by few millimeters.
In 1996, the Sisters of “Little Daughters of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary” from Parma settled a house in Adana helping with pastoral work for few years before Father Vincenzo and then p. Happy Morandi, Salesian.
Later, and still today, the weekly service in the parish of Adana was resumed by the Capuchin Fathers of Mersin.