Archbishop Piretto, OP: “The Extremism of Charity bears good fruits”

Archbishop Lorenzo Piretto, op

Archbishop Lorenzo Piretto, the Dominican Archbishop of Smyrna, Turkey like “The Extremism of Charity” which was invoked by Pope Francis in his recent trip to Egypt. It is an extremism that he knows so well and has lived daily during his 35 years in Turkey, a land traversed by strong contrasts. But “in reality, it is not exactly how it is represented”. Archbishop Piretto is in Bolzano, northern Italy where on the 6th of May, he ordained a Dominican friar and native of Bolzano, Luca Refatti to the priesthood. These were his thoughts on the mission in Turkey.

Dialogue and Respect

These are the two columns on which the presence of the Church in Smyrna rests. In my 35 years of presence in Turkey, I have always found people open to dialogue and very welcoming. In Turkey, we live daily the message of charity. If it is accepted and respected by the other, he opens up and in turn welcomes and respects you. 

For the 35 years I have been in Turkey, there have been challenges. That is true. Of course, it takes caution and you have to be careful. But that is how it is everywhere. Sometimes they tell me that I am too optimistic. But I do not think so”.

In Turkey, I have never had any problem. I have always found people who are disposed to dialogue and are welcoming. Certainly, we need to have an attitude of openness, dialogue and respect towards others. Turks have a strong feeling towards their cultural identity, but at the same time, they are people who are open to encounter others and to dialogue with them.

Stay among the people with humility

When Pope Francis spoke of “The extremism of charity”, I had a flash back of my years in Turkey and I can that is a positive extremism which bears good fruits. The message of charity which we as a Christian community live in Turkey has shown to us that, if the people are welcomed and respected, they will be opened and they will in turn welcome you and respect you. You have to immerse yourself in the midst of others with humility. In all these years, as a priest, as a Dominican and now as a bishop, my task is to be among the people with an attitude of human and religious sympathy. 

Turkey is a country more diverse than any other Arabian country. Islam is much more tolerant and welcoming here. There is no much religious hostilities as much as nationalistic (political) hostilities. I explain. The Turks have a strong sense of identity and this must be respected. They have a much richer history than most people and this history must be respected because it remains a part of the present existence of the people.

Always welcomed as a member of the family

Archbishop Piretto have taught Latin for several years at the Faculty of Islamic Theology.

They have always welcomed me as a member of the family. And that is not all. In my experience as a professor, I have always found a healthy curiosity towards Christianity, a disposition to dialogue and to knowledge. Over the years, the Christian community which is in the minority has changed greatly. If, with the passage of time, the number of Catholics in Europe has decreased, the number of Filipino migrants who have come to Turkey to work has increased.

Christians who have come from Europe since the Middle Ages have gradually disappeared and in recent decades the Catholic Church has been involved in inculturation. It is no longer seen as a foreign Church but as a Church that exists in Turkey. We are experiencing an extraordinary process of inculturation and this is the most beautiful change I have ever seen.

Language is not an obstacle.

Archbishop Piretto and all the 14 priests of the archdiocese celebrate the Eucharist in different languages.

Language does not present an obstacle, but a bridge to proclaim the Word and to encounter the people. We celebrate the Eucharist in English, Turkish, Italian, French, Korean and Spanish

Mary, the bridge of unity between the Islamic and the Christian world

Archbishop Piretto is also a testimony to Islam-Christian dialogue. Not only on the academic level but also in his daily life.  And in all these, Mary remains a fundamental figure for him.

Shortly before coming to Italy, I went to Ephesus, to the House of Mary. Today there are almost no European pilgrims, but there are so many Korean pilgrims, as well as from Argentina. When I was there a few days ago, there were Muslim faithful praying there. Mary is truly the bridge of the union between the Islamic and the Christian world. Mary is for us Christians and for the Muslim faithful the model of the person that prays.

The Commitment of the Local Caritas towards Migrants

One of the challenges facing Turkey today is that of migrants.  

There 4 million Syrian migrants who are being processed because they have a transit visa. But then, there are Iraqis, Afghans and Iranians who cannot stay in the big cities and who are expecting to move to another country. As a local Caritas (ours is a small Caritas), we try to help them without thinking that our help is a form of proselytizing. There is also the daily Caritas. This is also an expression of the “Extremism of Caritas”, as Pope Francis calls it.  


(9 May 2017)