It's been only two months since, on Feb. 6, two consecutive earthquakes, the strongest recorded so far, shook southeast Turkey and parts of Syria. At least 57,759 people died due to the tremors. In Turkey, some 14 million people, meaning 16 percent of the total population, were affected by the deadliest natural disaster in modern history.
In the city of Antakya, the scene today is one of devastation: streets once filled with life now echo with the muffled crunch of glass and rubble under the machines cleaning the debris, and the birds in the sky are primarily birds of prey. Only the dead remain among the hollow buildings, buried beneath the shadows of the city that once was.
Yet after an incredibly generous initial reaction, the world seems to have moved on, said Father Adrian Loza, national director of The Pontifical Mission Societies in Turkey.
"Even if the situation is no longer in the news, as a Church and as a society, we have an incredible challenge ahead of us, so I beg you to continue thinking of Turkey and Syria, and praying for Turkey and Syria," he said.
"We still need your help, because rebuilding will take years," said this Argentine Franciscan friar appointed head of The Pontifical Mission Societies Turkey last year. "And as the government rebuilds the infrastructure, we also need to rebuild the churches that were destroyed, because they are our home, the places where we come together in prayer, and also our biggest evangelizing tool."
In Turkey, public manifestation of faith is not allowed, significantly impacting how the estimated 40,000 Catholics (0.02 percent of the population) live their faith. It has also impacted how the local Church answers Pope Francis' call to be a Church that goes out and encounters people where they are.
"To get in touch with the Turkish people, our biggest asset is having the doors of the churches open," he said. "And this is our greatest task, made harder by the difficulties of learning the Turkish language. But the churches attract attention, people want to enter, visit them, see what is going on, why they are so beautiful, and they ask us about religion, about their faith, and they compare it to theirs."
Most of their missionary efforts, he said, are rooted in their availability when someone comes knocking on their door.
The smallness of the Church in Turkey, he said, has also been a challenge in terms of distributing the aid because many locals don't realize that there is a Caritas office in most parishes and that they can ask for food or medicine.
"Here you would not go to a mosque asking for material aid, so they are not used to this," Father Loza explained. "But those who know it is possible are helping us spread the word. And we need to be able to continue to help, as those coming to us grow in number."
We echo Pope Francis' words, who told us to "continue to stay close, with prayer and concrete support, to the earthquake victims in Syria and Turkey. Let us pray for them, let us not forget them, let us pray and think about what we can do for them."