ISTANBUL, Turkey, DEC. 23, 2003 (Zenit.org).- In the wake of the terrorist attacks against British-linked facilities and two synagogues, a sense of closeness has characterized the religious communities as Christmas approaches.
“This Christmas we Turkish Christians feel a deeper sense of solidarity and closeness with Jewish and Muslim communities; this is undoubtedly because of the recent tragic attacks in Istanbul,” Father George Marovich, spokesman of the Turkish bishops’ conference, told the Vatican missionary agency Fides. Suicide bombings last month at two synagogues, the British Consulate and a London-based bank left 62 dead.
Father Marovich explained the context of Christmas in this country.
“Christmas Day is not a bank holiday in Turkey but it is kept by all Christians,” he said. “The local Caritas office and aid agencies of other Christian churches are preparing gift hampers for poor families as a sign of God’s love for all men and women, revealed to mankind with the coming of Christ on earth. Many Muslim citizens, attracted by Christmas songs on foreign TV channels, come to join our Christmas services.”
Further east, in Antioch, on the border with Syria, Christmas is decidedly an ecumenical celebration.
“We hold a vigil service at St. Peter’s Grotto in a cave in the hills overlooking Antioch,” said Franciscan Friar Domenico Bertogli, an Italian missionary. “The grotto is believed to be the first church ever built in this area,” he said. “Then we join the Greek Orthodox Community for a Christmas celebration of the divine mysteries. There is no tension or fear of fundamentalist attacks.”
Christmas initiatives consist in solidarity with the needy, Father Bertogli said. “In collaboration with the local Caritas office we always have a Christmas charity raffle in aid of the poor and with the proceeds our pastoral helpers prepare parcels of food and clothing which they take at Christmas to the poorest families in the area, Christians and non-Christians.”