Istanbul, 6 April 2023. This morning at the headquarters of the Fanar Ecumenical Patriarchate in Istanbul, His Holiness Bartholomew I, Ecumenical Patriarch, and Br. Massimo Fusarelli, Minister General of the Order of Friars Minor, signed the Convention for the use by Orthodox Christians of Smyrna, of the Franciscan church of Santa Maria, in that ancient city.
A fraternal gesture, requested by Pope Francis as a sign of a common journey.
Our Holy Thursday is a special date for this gesture of communion.
Below is an in-depth article published on www.fideliter.it
The current church used by the Orthodox in Izmir is dedicated to St. Fotini. Still, today it is too small for the Orthodox community, composed of various nationalities: Greeks, Turks, Russians and Romanians.
A building that has known unfortunate events: the first church was built near the shores of the Aegean Sea in 1658 but collapsed in the earthquake of 1688; it was rebuilt in 1690. In 1856, the church tower was built, 33 metres high, like the years of Jesus, making it the tallest building in the city. Unfortunately, the whole complex was completely destroyed in the great fire of 1922, so a modern church was rebuilt with the same name.
Patriarch Bartholomew's last visit to St. Fotini was on 11 October 2022. Thanks to the new agreement, the Easter Vigil and the Divine Liturgy of the Orthodox Easter Day, on 16 April next, will be held in the Franciscan church of St. Mary's due to the expected influx of worshippers.
The Franciscans are immersed in a challenging missionary context: in Turkey, the Catholic Church is not legally recognised, and the small but willing international group of friars gathered around the two churches of St Mary and the Holy Name of Mary cannot wear the habit, nor proselytise, even though they are engaged in ecumenical dialogue with the Greek Orthodox, Anglicans, Lutherans and Pentecostals, and interreligious dialogue with Islam. Moreover, while there are about two thousand Catholics, the Muslim population of Smrine exceeds four million.
The Franciscan presence is, however, quite ancient: the Friars Minor arrived in the city, near the port of Alsancak, in the second half of the 14th century. The church and friary of St Mary's were inaugurated on 25 December 1692, but the current appearance of the church is due to the restoration work carried out by Austrian Emperor Francis Joseph in 1891 after a fire.