The presence of the Salesians of Istanbul, a strategic city between Europe and Asia, has highlighted the welcome offered migrants and refugees in recent years. The Sons of Don Bosco serve many minors between the ages of 5 and 16, but there are also many young adults who must leave school to help their families with a job. The search for a better life is the common denominator for them all.
In Turkey, Catholics represent only 0.02% of the population and number less than 15,000. The only Salesian presence is in Istanbul, where the Salesians have adapted to the circumstances. “We are five Salesians, two quite old, and the others almost newly-arrived, but we have made the effort to speak Turkish and to cultivate Turkish vocations. We work at the Cathedral, which is Catholic, and was entrusted to us 25 years ago. There, we celebrate Mass in four languages: Aramaic, English, French and Turkish,” explains Fr Andrés Calleja, 35 years a missionary, of which 25 spent in Turkey.
The Salesians’ focus is on the Christian families from Syria and Iraq, but there are also Pakistani, Nigerian, Kazakh, Iranian families… The Salesians never refuse anyone knocking at their door, but they cannot directly seek out, to avoid accusations of proselytizing.
In Istanbul, there is a special school for the children of refugee families: “They arrive with nothing. Everyone goes through the offices of the UN High Commission for Refugees to obtain the status as political refugees, and they also have to look for a means to survive, where to work … We welcome the children in the parishes with Salesian activities, and want them to speak English because it is their hope for the future when they then go to Australia or Canada. They stay with us for a year or two, and we have been able to create a welcoming atmosphere in which they feel at ease and comfortable, despite the traumas they bring with them and the violence they have seen,” explains Andrés Calleja.
The Salesians also run another school “built 110 years ago, and where all students are Muslims. We are the owners, but we cannot teach, have pastoral activities or talk about religion … But nobody forbids us to smile, to be kind, to be present, to greet them… We clearly manifest that we are Salesians and the reaction is very positive,” says the missionary.
Source: Salesian Missions