Catholic priest sad to be leaving Istanbul after 52 years
Felice Suriano, 80, has been appointed to Jerusalem but his Istanbul congregation has launched a campaign to halt his departure from the city.
“This is a move to rejuvenate Jerusalem. The priest there is 94-years-old,” Suriano told daily Hürriyet on Nov. 23, while adding that “it was nice not to be forgotten here.”
“There is a 94-year-old priest looking after St. Etienne’s grave in Beit Jimal. They told me: ‘You are young and you need to replace him.’ That was how I was appointed,” he said.
When asked about whether he was sad about leaving Istanbul, Suriano said he was “making a sacrifice.”
“When you become a Salesian, you make three promises: Faith, obedience and poverty. This is a sacrifice. I’m caught between two loves. Spiritually, I’m heading to holy soil, but of course I will miss Istanbul. Turkey is the second holy soil because Virgin Mary and at least three of Christ’s apostles came here. I’m leaving my friends here. But what would you think of a person who joins the army to do good? Bidding farewell is a miniature death. This is what life is like,” he said.
Born in Milan in 1938, Suriano received his training as a Salesian in Torino with his cousin. His first duty abroad was in Bethlehem, but he was reassigned to Aleppo in 1956. After serving for nine months in the city, he was again reassigned to Beirut, where he worked as both a priest and a teacher.
After starting to learn Arabic in addition to Italian, English and French, he was told that he had been appointed to Turkey and arrived in Istanbul when he was 21 years old.
Upon arrival in Istanbul, Suriano started teaching at an Italian elementary school in the Bomonti neighborhood, while improving his Turkish.
After three years in Istanbul, he returned to Bethlehem to look after a religious faculty, but kept up his Turkish language studies.
“I returned to Istanbul in 1966 and then stayed in Turkey. I was both teaching at the school in Bomonti and performing priestly duties at Notre Dame de Lourdes church,” Suriano said, adding that he retired after 20 years of teaching.
Suriano then moved to Saint Esprit Cathedral in Harbiye, where he performed baptism, marriage and funeral ceremonies, as well as visits to sick people, until German inspectors arrived in Istanbul a month ago.
While his departure date remains unknown, Suriano has been bidding farewell to his congregation of nearly 3,000 people.
Suriano also spoke about riding his bicycle in Istanbul. “I will leave my bicycle in Yeşilköy because the name of the church I will go to in Jerusalem is the same as Yeşilköy’s former name. Whoever wishes can take it,” he said