Aftermath of the deadly earthquake in eastern Turkey Aftermath of the deadly earthquake in eastern Turkey 

May the tragedy of the earthquake induce politicians to strive for peace

The Vicar Apostolic of Anatolia in eastern Turkey reflects on the devastation caused by the February 6 earthquakes, talks about his audience with Pope Francis and the pontiff’s constant support, and begs that the quake-struck peoples’ plight may not fall into oblivion.

By Antonella Palermo and Linda Bordoni

As the death toll from the Turkey-Syria earthquakes nears 44,000, a humanitarian catastrophe is unfolding, with millions of people forced to leave their homes and depend on aid for survival.

The Jesuit community is on the ground in both Turkey and Syria organizing relief and coordinating with humanitarian agencies.

One of the hardest-hit areas in Turkey is Anatolia in the east, with thousands of deaths, collapsed or uninhabitable hospitals, lack of electricity, and broken or difficult connections.

Jesuit Bishop Paolo Bizzeti, Vicar Apostolic of Anatolia, is coordinating aid response to the region. He says Pope Francis’ constant appeals for prayers and support for the quake-struck people are a source of great fortitude.

Bishop Bizzeti recounts that he was in Italy the day the earthquake struck, for meetings with seminarians.

“A providential coincidence”, he said, both because it may have saved his life, and because he feels that he is much more useful here, liaising with his community and the people it serves, coordinating with humanitarian organizations to be able to provide the most needed support and aid in the best possible way.

Bizzeti who is also president of Caritas Turkey is preparing to go back to Anatolia, one of Turkey’s most devastated regions, in the coming days. In an interview with Vatican Radio, he said the situation in the quake-struck regions remains fluid and is constantly updated.

Listen to Bishop Paolo Bizzeti, SJ

On Friday morning, the bishop was received by Pope Francis, whom he said asked personally to see him to express his closeness and his love for all the affected people without distinction. 

An opportunity to stop and reflect in a war-torn world

Expressing gratitude and feeling fortified and supported by the Pope, Bishop Bizzeti noted that the earthquake is a great tragedy; but, he said,  “it is also a great opportunity to stop” and reflect on what war-ravaged humanity wants.

"I hope," he said, "that this earthquake will also make all political leaders realize that peace is indispensable and that the only legacy of war is death and destruction.

“That is why, at least as far as we are concerned, we must immediately cease claims and conflicts in order to guarantee life.” Because life, he said, “is the supreme value," the life of men and women is the supreme value, “even for God.”

“I hope it will induce leaders to strive for peace in the world.”

A man surrounded by tombs in a large graveyard in the aftermath of the earthquake in Kahramanmaras, Turkey
A man surrounded by tombs in a large graveyard in the aftermath of the earthquake in Kahramanmaras, Turkey

The Vicar Apostolic goes on to reflect on the many effects of the tragedy, which he said, we will be dealing with for many years from now, “because there is a whole series of tragedies that come with this earthquake like the loss of parents: the greatest of tragedies for the children” who survive.

And he expressed optimism for the incredible network of solidarity that is preventing them from falling through the cracks.

“We trust that the people are good. The Turkish people are good, as they have shown for years towards refugees.”

“We trust that there are relatives, people, institutions that will take these little creatures to heart,” he said.

Bishop Bizzeti noted that Turkey is one of the countries that receives perhaps the largest number of refugees in the world: “Afghan refugees, Syrian refugees, Iraqi refugees.”

The local Church is heavily involved in supporting refugees and guaranteeing them dignity. But now, he said, the difficulties are increasing.

“We have deaths among the families of Syrians that we were assisting, so that means also helping people to process these bereavements.”

Syrian refugees from quake-hit areas of Turkey return home
Syrian refugees from quake-hit areas of Turkey return home

Solidarity network

The bishop explained that Caritas Turkey, a host of other relief organizations, and the government are all working hard. 

“But the magnitude of the catastrophe is truly unequal to the forces at work.”

“We hope that from all over the world, we will continue to be able to bring aid and provide support, directly and indirectly in various ways,” he said.

The rubble of collapsed buildings in Aleppo, Syria
The rubble of collapsed buildings in Aleppo, Syria

The situation in Syria

Regarding the situation in Syria where the Jesuit Refugee Service is very active, the Vicar Apostolic said it “remains largely unexplored territory.”

He noted that the total number of deaths compared to Turkey, is not great, “but that's a country that has more than ten years of war on its shoulders.”

“This arouses inner despair in people, it seems like a tragedy without end.”

Finally, he launched an appeal not to forget: We know, he said, after a few weeks the media spotlight goes out, and an even greater tragedy for the survivors of the earthquakes would be that of being forgotten.

'Bishop Paolo Bizzeti interviewed by Vatican Radio's Antonella Palermo
'Bishop Paolo Bizzeti interviewed by Vatican Radio's Antonella Palermo

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17 February 2023, 16:25