Istanbul refugee center prepares to welcome Pope Francis

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Istanbul refugee center prepares to welcome Pope Francis

By Andrea Gagliarducci/ CNA

People at the refugee center that Pope Francis will visit this coming Sunday, November 30, are learning to seek a future, the director of the center told CNA November 27.

“Pope Francis will come here because we are not a school, we are a refugee center, we are a center of learning that kids can use for the future. And they are searching for the future,” Fr. Andrés Calleja Ruiz emphasized.

A Salesian hailing from Madrid, Fr. Calleja has been directing the center, situated in the vicinity of the Holy Spirit Cathedral, for five years.

Previously, Fr. Calleja served in Indonesia, and he was chosen to go to Turkey for his “experience with the Muslim world.”

He will accompany the children hosted by the refugee camp to meet the Pope Dec. 30.

He recounted that “the Pope will meet with about 100 children, though we still have to decide whether he will come to us, or whether we will go to him.”

The refugee center is just behind the Holy See nunciature in Istanbul, a few steps from the Holy Spirit Cathedral where the Pope will say Mass November 29.

The cathedral has been entrusted to Salesians since 1989, and – beyond the refugee center – they boast a youth center, a hospital, and a primary school.

“Most of the people coming here are Christians, but there are also Muslims, though they are quite a few. We welcome everybody, and everything is given for free. All our work is completely sustained by donations, which mostly come from foreign countries. The Catholic community is only 0.02 percent of the population, and it is very poor,” Fr. Calleja stressed.

He then provided some data: the Youth Center for Iraqi and Syrian refugees hosts 150 people, the center dedicated to African immigrants 180, while the refugee center hosts almost 300 people: there little boys from the age of 5 to 14 are welcomed in the refugee center, while “their parents are free to look for a job.”

The center was opened “during the First Gulf War, and the arrival of refugees has never stopped in the course of the years. There was a moment in which the wave of refugees seemed to stop, and then the Syrian crisis broke, and so a lot of Syrian families have come here,” Fr. Calleja said.

With sorrow, he said that “most of the refugees are from the Middle East,” but “only a few want to get back to their land,” and this is “sad, because Christians have been there for 2,000 years, and they remained faithful throughout difficulties.”

For what concerns him, Fr. Calleja said that he will “not say anything to the Holy Father, but will just present the children and thank our donors. I will speak in Spanish.”

Fr. Calleja recounted that “the biggest satisfaction of this work occurs when one of your former student come to look for you, or for someone who was there before you. This happens often. And three of our former guests have become priests, and two nuns.”

Fri, 11/28/2014 - 20:32
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