Visiting communities in southern Türkiye from 4-6 April, the delegation met with churches in Mersin, Iskenderun, and Antioch, including communities in the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch, Armenian Patriarchate of Constantinople, Latin Catholics and others.
“The visit is tremendously symbolic during western Holy Week, and during the last week of Great Lent in the eastern calendar,” said WCC general secretary Rev. Prof. Dr Jerry Pillay. “It is really sad to see the devastation and damage brought about by the earthquake in Türkiye. Apart from the destruction of buildings, homes, properties and churches are the emotional and psychological scars endured by many people who have lost loved ones and almost everything.”
Pillay said: “We visited Mersin, Iskenderun, and Antioch. I was deeply broken to see most of Antioch totally destroyed and now very empty. Church leaders are very concerned about the diminishing numbers of Christians in Türkiye and now whether Christians will return to this land that has so much of biblical history.” He added “We pray that they would be able to continue to sustain a lively Christian presence in this very historic city.”
“The greatest need right now is to provide housing for the displaced people and funding to rebuild the destroyed cities,” underlined Pillay. “The churches are trying to build temporary houses for people and seek assistance.”
In the wake of the earthquake, there is grave need related to the lack of food, water, and healthcare, and many first responders continue to work under extremely aggravated circumstances.
The quake in Türkiye and Syria caused enormous destruction in terms of both lives and property: in Türkiye alone, 45 thousand people died under the over 230,000 collapsed buildings, 1.7 million were forced into tents, nearly 3 million were made homeless, and the livelihoods of some 9 million people were severely affected.
ACT Alliance general secretary Rudelmar Bueno de Faria said: “In the aftermath of the earthquake, churches did what they have always done—opened their doors, their hearts, and their hands to help their neighbours who were affected by this tragic event.”
Bueno de Faria added, “During this visit, we have seen the commitment of the churches to this work, to continuing to serve those impacted by the earthquake in the spirit of ecumenical diakonia.” He concluded, “The need of international financial support is critical, as the reconstruction will take time and will be costly.”
ACT Alliance partners and many other churches across the world have raised funds and sent humanitarian experts to conduct assessments and prepare relief, many closely cooperating with local partner organizations in the region.
According to an ACT Alliance situation report, the priority needs of earthquake-affected people are rehabilitation and repair of damaged homes, mental health and psychosocial support, food assistance, hygiene and dignity kits, shelter, water, sanitation, food, and cash assistance.
Many children continue to exhibit signs of distress, and there remains a significant need for psychosocial support services, recreational activities, child-friendly spaces, medical aid, and services for people with disabilities and the elderly.
Pillay concluded, “We encourage the WCC members and others to offer continued prayers and support for the people in Türkiye and other parts of the world affected by earthquakes and disasters. During this time of Easter, we are reminded that the suffering servant is with the suffering people of God on earth. May the Risen Lord, Jesus Christ, give us hope and peace in these troubled and difficult times. In Christ is our hope!”
The WCC-ACT delegation is comprised of Rev. Prof. Dr Jerry Pillay, general secretary, World Council of Churches; Rudelmar Bueno de Faria, general secretary, ACT Alliance; and Laki Vingas, archon of the Ecumenical Patriarchate and former elected representative of minority foundations in Türkiye.