TURKEY: Keeping the ‘light of Christianity alive’

Archbishop Martin Kmetec celebrating Mass. (© ACN and N. Ritzmann)
Archbishop Martin Kmetec celebrating Mass. (© ACN and N. Ritzmann)

Turkey’s miniscule Christian community is preserving an ancient Christian presence – making it a “forgotten Holy Land”, according to an archbishop.

With only “150,000 Christians out of the approximately 85 million people living in Turkey”, Archbishop Martin Kmetec of Izmir said aid programmes have been essential for helping the Church survive.

Archbishop Kmetec told Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) that his archdiocese is home to only 5,000 Catholics and does not have sufficient income to maintain its churches and other historic buildings.

The archbishop said that the Church has a duty to preserve its presence in Turkey, adding: “We are indebted to Christ to do so. We are indebted to history to do so. And we are indebted to the martyrs to do so.”

He stressed: “The Church of Izmir is the only one of the Seven Churches of Revelation to survive to this day.”

Important early Christian sites in Izmir Archdiocese include the ruins of Ephesus – where St Paul the Apostle lived and taught for more than two years – the House of the Virgin Mary and the tomb of St John the Apostle.

The archdiocese also covers the area where St Polycarp was martyred and where his student St Irenaeus was born in the second century.

The archbishop said that most Catholics in his archdiocese have historically been Levantines – descendents of European Catholics who had settled in the Ottoman Empire – but their numbers have been declining, offset by “the migration of Catholics from Africa and Asia to Turkey”.

He added that ACN’s aid has been a lifeline for the region’s Christian community.

Projects in the archdiocese have included emergency aid for Christian refugees from the Middle East and Africa, the provision of catechetical material and support for seminarians.

ACN has provided more than £410,000 (€485,000) over the last five years – including the renovation of the Church of St Polycarp and other churches in Izmir damaged by an earthquake in 2020.


With thanks to Conn McNally