THE APOSTOLIC VICARIATE OF ANATOLIA
Creation of the Vicariate
The Apostolic Vicariate of Anatolia was created on December 15, 1990 by Pontifical decree, transforming the legal status of the Mission Sui Iuris of Trabzon; it was abolished and incorporated into the Apostolic Vicariate of Istanbul. There were already two existing Apostolic Prefectures in our territory: that of Syria and that of Mardin. For our Vicariate we must speak more precisely of Eastern Anatolia in so far as in Western Anatolia the Archdiocese of Izmir and the Apostolic Vicariate of Istanbul were also present (see map below). These ecclesiastical districts were connected with the Church of the Latin-Roman rite. The first Cathedral Church chosen was Mersin and in 1999 it was transferred to Iskenderun.
Ecclesiastical Latin districts in Turkey after 1990
The History of Christianity in the Vicariate
We can rightly say that the first presence of Christianity in the Vicariate came with the first followers of Christ in the city of Antioch (37 a.d.). It was here that for the first time they were called “Christians”. Two great figures from the beginnings of Christianity were born here: Saint Paul at Tarsus and Luke the Evangelist at Antioch. From this time on Christianity has remained uninterrupted here up to present day. Over the centuries, the principal languages spoken by the Christians of Eastern Anatolia were Greek, Syriac (we could say a form of the Aramaic dialects spoken by Jesus), Latin (within the administration) and Armenian. Because of cultural-linguistical differences, in the VI century the Armenian Church of the V century and the Syrian Church, so called Jacobite, became autonomous from the rest of the Church already diffused in all of the Roman Empire, where Latin was spoken in the West and Greek in the East.
From 1054 the Christians from Anatolia, (those of the Greek language), became autonomous from the authority of the Pope in Rome, which was relatively unknown outside of the world of the Latin language. For this reason these Christians from Anatolia were called Greek-Orthodox (some under the authority of the Patriarch of Constantinople, today Istanbul, and others under that of Antioch). The Catholics, that is those who recognized the authority of the Pope, nevertheless returned to Eastern Anatolia for various needs: first to support those going on pilgrimages to Jerusalem, second because of expeditions formed by certain western reigns (see the formation of the Antioch Principality or the Empire of Comeno in Trabzon, etc), and third for professional and commercial reasons. After the decision of the Council of Florence (1439) to reunite Catholics and Orthodox did not succeed, and after the fall of the Roman Empire in the East (1453), some religious leaders also came to Eastern Anatolia in an attempt to unite all the Christians and bear witness to their faith.
In the XVII century, however, a part of the Catholics from here went to form the Catholic Church of Armenia, others went to form the Syro-Catholic Church, others the Greek Orthodox (so called Melkite), whilst others formed the Chaldean Church according to the spoken languages and cultures. All of them acknowledged the primacy of the Pope. It was different with the Maronite Christians, who were aligned with the Pope but instead used a different liturgy.
During the Selgiuchide period and subsequently during the reign of the Ottoman Empire, advanced research shows that in Anatolia there were diverse centers where the majority of the population was Christian.
The Latin Catholics were present in the Pisan, Genoan, and Venetian colonies. The first latin missions began in the XVI century. At Trabzon, since the time of Justinian, they began arriving in Anatolia, increasing commercial and cultural exchanges with Europe (the 19th century saw a boom in this immigration). Their descendants are called Levantines, and priests and religious leaders decided to follow them, giving them both religious and scholastic assistance. The first Latin ecclesiastical district was established in 1818: “The Archdiocese of Izmir and Apostolic Vicariate of Asia Minor”. The XIX century was alive and rich with activities and works by the Catholics and other Christians of Anatolia. Through these groups the Ottoman and European worlds were in close contact, however the balanced coexistence soon ended. At the end of the XIX century, due to an outbreak of nationalistic ideology which implicated diverse nationalities, the Christians of Armenian origin were decimated. In 1914, the eruption of the First World War forced many Catholics, especially the French ones, to return to their own countries.
In the years between 1915-1918 it was the Armenians and the Syrians who suffered absolute persecution including deportations, etc., and the Armenian population (Catholic and non) in Eastern Anatolia was practically eliminated. Part of this population survived, dispersing to form the so called Armenian diaspora. The Christian Syriac community underwent the same process, and from 1920-1923 it was the Christians of Greek ethnic groups who experienced a real collapse.
The Turkish War of Independence, which shaped the new Turkish Republic, destroyed a major part of the Greek’s religious-cultural traditions in Anatolia, and in 1923 the exchange of populations between Greece and Turkey gave way to a process of diminution of Christians of Greek ethnicity which has continued up to the present.
In 1935 a law delivered a blow to Levantine artisans, allowing only Turkish people to practice their crafts. Hence, major part of the Catholic foreigners were forced to immigrate, despite the fact that many of them had lived in the country for generations.
Various churches were confiscated (Tarso, Giresun), evicted (Zonguid), and even destroyed (Merzifon). Many of the churches were converted into mosques, libraries or other buildings. Other Christian buildings, such as schools and hospitals, were faced with the same fate. On the other hand, World War II contributed to the near disappearance of the Levantines in Eastern Anatolia and the consequent closing of various Consulates (Samsun which counted 13 Consulates at the time, has only one today). The formation of various American bases on Turkish territory allowed a few Catholic churches to remain despite the difficulties. Nonetheless, with the onset of technological development and changes in the political situation many of these were still forced to close.
With the diminishment of foreigners of Christian origin, many Muslim families embraced Christianity and even the rite of baptism. Some of them had grandparents who were Christians, but to save their lives they had hidden their true faith. The social pressures, nevertheless, did not make the conversion to Christianity very easy, and the killings of Christians including the Italian priest Don Andrea Santoro and Bishop Luigi Padovese created a climate of fear.
Our statistics for these past years, quoting the Pontifical Yearbook are the following:
|Catholics x priest.||Deacons
|Religious men||Religious women||Parishes|
Our parishes support Catholics of other rites and those who no longer have a Church of their own (Chaldeans, Armenians, Maronites, Syrian-Catholics and Melkites), and at times also the Orthodox, Christians of ancient Oriental Churches and Protestants.
1993 – 2004 Ruggero Franceschini O.F.M. Cap.
2004 – 2010 Luigi Padovese O.F.M. Cap.
2010 – 2015 Ruggero Franceschini O.F.M. Cap.
2015- Paolo Bizzeti S.J.
Ruggero Franceschini: born on September 1, 1939 in Saltino di Prignano sul Secchia (MO). On July 2, 1993 he was appointed Apostolic Vicar of Anatolia and Titular Bishop of Sicilibba. He was ordained as a Bishop on October 3rd of the same year. On October 11, 2004 he was appointed Archbishop of Izmir. After Mons. Luigi Padovese’s death he was the Apostolic Administrator for the Apostolic Vicariate of Anatolia until November 2015.
Luigi Padovese: born on March 31, 1947, in Milan. On October 11, 2004 he was appointed Apostolic Vicar of Anatolia and Titular Bishop of Monteverde. He was consecrated in Iskenderun on November 7th of the same year. He was assassinated on June 3, 2010.
Paolo Bizzeti: born in 1947 in Florence. He joined the Society of Jesus, and after his traditional,
philosophical and theological studies and priestly ordination (1975), he graduated from Bologna with a degree in Philosophy and Letters and a thesis based on the book of Wisdom (Wisdom. Structure and literary genres. Paideia, Brescia, 1984). For many years he was engaged in biblical evangelism and youth ministry in Bologna, after which he became the Superior to the Father Jesuits in Florence.
Subsequently he became the Director for the Center of Spirituality in Villa San Giuseppe, Bologna for 12 years. For 20 years he also coordinated the pastoral work for vocations for the Jesuits in Italy. From 2007-2013 he was the Rector for the International Scholastic Philosophy for The Company of Jesus in Padova, and Director for the Antonianum Center in Padova for laity formation. He held courses at the Theological Faculty of Triveneto and at the ISSR. He also supports family communities (www.maranatha.com; www.mulinocasole.it; www.tendadiabraham.it; www.comunitabethesda.it).
He founded the non-profit organization “Friends of the Middle East”, a group that is interested in the religious problems in the Middle East and promotes formative itineraries in the Biblical lands. (www.amo-fme.org). Amongst the latest publications: Up to the Extreme Limits. Meditations on the Acts of the Apostles, EDB Bologna, 2008. A biblical, patristical, archeological and touristic guide to Turkey. EDB Bologna, 2014.
On August 14, 2015 he was appointed Bishop to Tabe and Apostolic Vicar to Anatolia. Consecrated on November 1, 2015, he was installed in the Vicariate on November 29, 2015. He lives in Iskenderun.