Every Tuesday is an extraordinary day at the Church and Friary of St. Anthony of Padua in Istanbul, Turkey. The friary is part of the Provincial Custody of the Orient and the Holy Land.
In fact, Tuesday is when the most people come into the church and dive into deep prayer. It is when the most people line up to speak with a priest and the most candles are lit in front of the statue of St. Anthony. On Tuesdays, the book of prayer intentions gets the most entries and the poor box fills the quickest. On Tuesdays, more needy people knock on the friary gate than on any other day. It is a day of grace, a day of thanksgiving and intercession. At 11:30 a.m., the friars offer Mass in Turkish and at 5:00 p.m. they distribute St. Anthony’s bread. For many of our friaries, Tuesday is the day we help the poor. In our case, it is when we distribute clothing and bread. St. Anthony himself makes sure that we lack none of these items.
Tuesday, March 24, 2020, was a day we shall remember well. On that day, the coronavirus closed the doors of our church and friary for the first time. The closure continued from one Tuesday to the next. Today, April 21, 2020, marks the fifth Tuesday. It is worth noting that Tuesday, March 24, coincided with the day of penance and fasting that the Minister General called for, in order to respond to the pandemic which was then already reaping so many victims.
How do we protect ourselves from the virus? How do we avoid spreading it? How do we celebrate the sacraments? What can we do? How do we work? Moreover, what does the Lord want to tell us at this time? These are just some of the questions that concern us. The Minister General asked us to reflect and think, but the answers have not come to us as easily as the next Tuesday or “fakirlerin günü” (day for the poor) has. St. Anthony himself decided to act and, according to his custom, he gave bread to the hungry. The hungry have been coming to us, more and more, despite every new ban imposed by the state to fight the virus. Most of the afflicted are migrants from Africa, Asia and the Middle East, followed by our own parishioners. These people have suddenly lost their daily or weekly income. Their savings, which they often sent back to their home countries, are inadequate. Looking into the eyes of many of them, one can sense the rising fear of a bread shortage.
The friars make available everything that St. Anthony provides them. Each Tuesday, they prepare forty packages of food. The packages contain rice, oil, tomato puree and salt, and are distributed to the most needy families and parishioners living in households of three or more. Parish group leaders have used their knowledge of the community to reach out to about 140 people. Every Tuesday, St. Anthony bakes more bread, but this time, he provided even more, in the form of vegetables. The friars divided everything carefully and were able to prepare eighty additional packages, each containing ten potatoes, ten onions, four carrots, four cucumbers and three tomatoes. The people rejoiced. It was a small miracle that St. Anthony prepared 120 packages. The poor received enough of a supply to last them a few days. Even though the portions were small, they were abundant, because St. Anthony provided them.
Dear brothers, true miracles happen before our eyes, because God’s goodness knows no boundaries. We thank all those who have heard St. Anthony’s appeal. We give thanks for individual donations and for those made by two institutions: the French Church of St. Louis and the Turkish “Caritas”. We thank our Turkish friends and our anonymous donors.
Finally, we thank you, dear confreres, for your solidarity in prayer and your witness in action. May we always carry the virus of kindness and generosity which St. Anthony gives us.
The friars of St. Anthony’s Friary in Istanbul-Beyoğlu, Turkey