“Furthermore,” he said, “Turkey was becoming an industrial country from an agricultural country and therefore it was very interesting for me to see the social, political, economic process of this country so unique because it is located at the crossroads of the East with the West, and placed between the Russian countries, the Arab and Central Asian countries.”
“Unfortunately, I have also seen many negative things such as great pollution, wild overbuilding, and many negative political events. However, every year I returned to Turkey and followed the evolution of this country, always updated on the main news.”
Bizzeti was born in Florence, Italy, in 1947. After joining the Society of Jesus, he was ordained a priest in 1975. He engaged in youth ministry in the historic northern university city of Bologna for many years, before returning to a post in his home city. He then spent 12 years as director of the Villa San Giuseppe, a spirituality center in Bologna.
For 20 years, he coordinated pastoral work for vocations for Italy’s Jesuits. In 2007, he founded the nonprofit organization Friends of the Middle East.
He was well prepared, then, when he received his daunting episcopal appointment in Turkey. He was ordained a bishop in the Basilica of St. Justina in Padua, northern Italy, and then left his homeland for İskenderun, a coastal city in southern Turkey.
The Apostolic Vicariate of Anatolia, formed in 1990, serves Latin Rite Catholics in the eastern half of Turkey at eight different locations.
According to some estimates, there are just 35,000 Catholics in the country, comprising 0.05% of Turkey’s 82 million population.
While the vast majority of citizens are Muslim, there is considerable diversity within Turkish Islam. Most of Turkey’s Muslims are Sunni, but a considerable minority are adherents of Alevism, a distinctive subgroup often classified as a branch of Shia Islam.
“Catholics are a very small minority, but now we have many Christian refugees from Iraq, Syria, Iran, Afghanistan, Africa. They are now more numerous than local Christians,” Bizzeti said.
“Unfortunately they are without pastors, without nuns, without catechists and they do not have the possibility to open a chapel, a cultural center, a school, a sports center of Christian inspiration.”
“Their condition is very hard and they cannot leave the city where they have been sent without a police permit, which is often not given. They are far from the churches and therefore do not have Mass even on Christmas, Easter, etc.”
(Story continues below)
Subscribe to our daily newsletter
At Catholic News Agency, our team is committed to reporting the truth with courage, integrity, and fidelity to our faith. We provide news about the Church and the world, as seen through the teachings of the Catholic Church. When you subscribe to the CNA UPDATE, we'll send you a daily email with links to the news you need and, occasionally, breaking news.
As part of this free service you may receive occasional offers from us at EWTN News and EWTN. We won't rent or sell your information, and you can unsubscribe at any time.
“A very hard condition also because the Christian West has unfortunately closed all its doors and very few families manage to emigrate to a country where there is real religious freedom and Christian churches.”
“The Muslim population is good and respect us, but does not know Christianity and is often full of prejudices towards Christians.”
The bishop believes that, despite being a tiny minority, Christians are a vital presence in Turkey, as well as in nearby Middle Eastern countries.
“Turkey is very important for Christianity because our roots are here and because the Christian traditions of the churches in Turkey are very rich, varied, and have a very beautiful theological heritage,” he said.
“Furthermore, Christians in the Middle East have always been important in recent centuries precisely to avoid a growth of Muslim religious fundamentalism and for their contribution to a civil society attentive to human rights. Christian culture is necessary for the whole Middle East, there is no doubt.”
He continued: “A Middle East without the presence of Christians would be poorer and more exposed to fundamentalist tendencies. Furthermore, Christians and Muslims have lived together in the Ottoman Empire for centuries and those who claim that coexistence is impossible are mistaken.”