Many people may know Antioch for having delicious desserts like Kunefe, or for being a city on the Syrian-Turkey border. However, Antioch may be best known as a “seat of Christianity.” Ten minutes away from the heart of the city is St. Peter Grotto, where it’s reported the word “Christian” was first used.
One would assume that since Turkey is 99.8% Muslim, the history of Christianity isn’t honored in Turkey. But, in Antioch, there’s an Orthodox Church, a Protestant Church, a Catholic Church, various mosques and a synagogue… all within 15 minutes walking distance of each other.
Members of all of these places of worship work together on different projects for the community. “Christians, Armenians, Orthodox, Jews… it’s an example of collaboration, and we work together.” said Father Bertogli of the Antioch Catholic Church.
At the Orthodox Church there is even special seating to separate men and women, an accommodation for Muslims who may come to their church, according to Razik Effim, administrator for the church.
“All the religions are in a friendship”, Effim said.
A site that really captures the interfaith feeling of Antioch is Sister Barbara Kallasgh’s house. The Catholic nun says every Monday through Friday, at 6:30 p.m., people from all spiritual walks of life come together to sing songs from different religions and cultures.
LIving in a city near the Turkey-Syria border where they can mix with refugees escaping violence in their homeland “It becomes more important for this city to spread this message of peace,” said Kallasgh.
She believes that music is the best way to convey this message.
“Music is something coming from the heart,” said Kallasgh. “It’s more deep, more rooted than words. Music is something we really can feel together. We don’t struggle with music. There are no borders in music.”
Luis Moreno, a local painter, artist, and volunteer for the services, said that Sister Barbara’s is less of a church, and more of a meeting point. Pilgrims, or those visiting holy sites in the city, can “come and go” as they please, and the atmosphere is neutral.
“People can meet, said Moreno, “sing without problems, and pray together for peace.”
Moreno came to Sister Barbara’s from Syria, where, as a Syrian Christian, he did not converse with others of different faiths.
“I wanted to experience something I could not experience in Syria,” he said, “like the dialogue with Jews and Christians, for example.”
And that, according to Effim, is the whole purpose of the city.
“This is one of the best examples in the world of all the cultures,” said Effim,” and there is no place like the city.”