By Ononye VC
A statue of the Virgin Mary was untouched after the collapse of a Catholic cathedral in an earthquake that struck Turkey and Syria on Monday, inflicting heavy damage with a death toll already exceeding 6,000 and leaving thousands more injured.
The image of Our Lady was unharmed in the quake that brought down Annunciation Cathedral in the city of Alexandretta in the Turkish province of Hatay. The cathedral was the main church of the Apostolic Vicariate of Anatolia.
On Facebook, Father Antuan Ilgit, a Turkish Jesuit priest, asked the faithful to “pray for us and for the people. It was a powerful earthquake. We don’t have definite news yet. However, our cathedral is no more!”
“Thank God we, our sisters, and our collaborators are well and we’re trying to take in those who come to stay with us,” he added.
In a subsequent Facebook post, the priest commented that “the collapse of the cathedral is shocking; just yesterday I celebrated Mass there, on Sunday!”
“Now the living stones that need attention are here, and with the help of God we will be able to rebuild everything,” Ilgit said.
“We are all in the refectory, which is more accessible, where we also celebrated Mass! I brought the image of the Madonna from the cathedral; this image will be our strength and with her we will face everything,” he said.
“We continue to trust in God and in his holy providence. It’s raining, it’s cold, and the tremors are very strong. We feel your closeness and count on it. We also hold beloved Syria in our hearts. May the Lord keep us in his love and be gracious to us!” the priest concluded.
In the early hours of Monday, Feb. 6, a powerful 7.8-magnitude earthquake rocked southeastern Turkey and northwestern Syria. A few hours later, at around 1:30 p.m. local time, a second 7.5-magnitude earthquake struck central Turkey, bringing down more buildings.
Turkey is located in one of the most active seismic zones in the world.
The Turkish government has declared a level 4 state of emergency and has requested international assistance after more than a thousand buildings in various provinces in southern Turkey and northern Syria were demolished by the strong earthquake.
The Turkish government has also decreed seven days of mourning for the tragedy.
Cardinal Matteo Zuppi, archbishop of Bologna and president of the Italian Bishops’ Conference, sent a message to those affected by the earthquake. “On behalf of the Church in Italy,” he said, “I express my deep condolences and closeness to the population tested by this tragic event, assuring prayers for the victims, their families, and the injured.”
He also hoped that “the machinery of international solidarity will be put into operation immediately to ensure a speedy reconstruction.”
The Italian bishops pledged 500,000 euros in aid for victims in both countries and noted that in Syria, “the earthquake afflicts a country already torn by war and where more than 80% of the population lives in poverty.”
The number of victims in Turkey and Syria continues to rise as the rubble is removed.