Holding a golden chalice and paten with a single hand, Father Remzi
Diril slowly moved from one person to another, distributing the
Eucharist. He reached for a consecrated host, dipped it in the chalice,
and gave it to a woman in her 40s, whose head was covered with a veil.
With chants in the background and incense filling the air, the moment
inspired reverence. Yet the Mass was not in a church; it was in an
apartment in Kirsehir, a small, conservative city in the heart of
Turkey, a Muslim-majority country.
Being the only Chaldean Catholic priest in charge of pastoral work in
Turkey, Father Adday, as he is known, has become a true itinerant
priest, a road warrior who, each year, logs thousands of miles tending
his flock, the community of Iraqi Christian refugees in Turkey. Their
exact number is unknown, but it is estimated to be 40,000.
Since he was ordained two years ago, Adday, 34, has baptized more
than 200 children, married more than 20 couples and administered the
last rites to more than 30 people.
He also is on his fifth suitcase.
“So far this year we have celebrated first Communion for more than 100 children. And last year it was more than 150,” he said.
On a recent hourlong flight from his base in Istanbul to Nevsehir, a
city in central Turkey, Adday sat comfortably in the emergency exit row
of a plane from a low-cost airline. “There is more legroom here,” Adday
said; his eyes locked on the airline’s magazine crossword.
The trip’s cost is an important factor considering that the church is
not able to reimburse his expenses. That only happens when there is an
official function or religious festival. More often it is the priest, or
the families he visits, who pay for the trip.
“It is easier for them to help me with my travel expenses than to
pay, for a family of 10, for a trip to Istanbul,” Adday explained.
Once he arrives at his destination, the priest relies on a support
network who connects him to the local community of Iraqi Christians.
From Nevsehir, Adday took a 60-mile bus ride to Kirsehir, where he
met Adnan Barbar and his wife, Faten Somo. This was the priest’s eighth
time in the city.
“This is my family in Kirsehir. In every city, I have a family. Sometimes more than one,” he said.
The couple acts as Adday’s local liaison. After welcoming the priest
to their apartment with the customary tea and sweets, Barbar and Somo
got on their cellphones. They were familiar with the city’s 225 Iraqi
Christian families, and they were assembling the priest’s itinerary.
This area of Turkey is a pivotal place in the history of
Christianity. Early Christians came here escaping persecution in the
Roman Empire. Remains of the churches they built can still be visited
However, no Catholic churches function in this part of the country.
And when Adday visits, Mass is celebrated in homes, as the early
Christians also did.
Celebrating Mass in a public hall would allow more people to attend,
but renting a hall costs about $900, which can be better spent traveling
to visit more families.
On average, 10 families are invited to each Mass, and 30 people
attend. The smaller Mass allows for an experience different from the one
felt in a church.
“A Mass in a house is more like a family. Father and children sharing
the glory of God,” Adday said. “I would say it is like watching a film
in a movie theater versus watching it at home with your family.”
After this Mass, the priest visited Marta Kiryakos, a woman from
Bartella, Iraq, suffering from cancer. Her daughter, Nadira, opened the
door of the bedroom, crying, worried about her mother’s health.
Kiryakos’ condition is delicate, and the priest prayed for several
minutes as he anointed her temples and forehead with oils.
Many of the people Father Adday visits have spent several years in
Turkey, waiting for an answer to their asylum applications to countries
such as Australia, Canada and the United States. The process is long,
and this time in limbo has caused many people physical and psychological
“People need spiritual help. They need a priest. They want the church
with them. I can’t give them material things, but I can give them my
time and give them hope,” the priest said.
Adday and the Iraqi refugees he serves are Assyrian, an ethnic group
from the Middle East. Their language - Assyrian - is related to the
language Jesus spoke, Aramaic.
But their connection is not only the ethnic group and language. When
Adday was a child, his village in southeast Turkey was burned during the
Kurdish-Turkish conflict. He and his family had to move to Istanbul.
That is another reason that keeps Adday on the road with the people.
“When you leave your sheep in the mountain, you don’t know what will
happen to them. But when you are with them it is different. You can show
them where the water is; where there is a good place to stay. They are
like children waiting for their father,” he said.
After two intense days and one night in Kirsehir, Adday prepared to
return to Istanbul. He celebrated five Masses and visited multiple
families, but he said he was not tired.
“I hope that my visits allow them to become more spiritual and in
touch with the church, and to refresh their belief in Jesus. Every
Christian needs to refresh his spiritual life,” he said.
“I also hope to give them hope and remind them…that God makes
miracles, and for that they need to believe. I tell them let God do the
working for you. He is our Father and he wants the best for you,” Adday