Mersin Church

Historical Remarks
1843-1914
In 1843 a Franciscan-Capuchin priest was sent to Tarsus to fulfil a mission which materialized primarily because of the religious needs of the catholic inhabitants of Tarsus and Mersin. This priest was Peder Giuseppe, the new shepherd of the small catholic following present there. (In Tarsus at that time were 36 Catholics and 5 in Mersin.) In one of his letters to his Italian superiors, Peder Giuseppe wrote: “Mersin is a fishing village with 1000 inhabitants, five of whom are Catholic, located four hours from Tarsus.” Peder Guiseppe stayed in Tarsus and looked after the religious needs of Catholics from both Mersin and Tarsus but also those from Adana. However in 1847, having built a small church and having bought a house to live in, he was forced to return to Italy after contracting Malaria. In 1859 he died from Malaria at just 35 years old.
In 1848 Peder Antonio came to continue the work Peder Guiseppe had started. At that time, Mersin’s agriculture and trade were developing very fast due to economic and agricultural reforms. (Tanzimat Fermanı, Fırka-i Islahiye Programı) The harbour of Mersin became more and more important and a rail link between Adana and Mersin was also built. As a result of these and other changes (the various conflicts between Muslim and Maroon populations in the Lebanon,) many Christians and others from varying religions and nationalities moved to Mersin. This was the beginning of today’s Mersin, which can today be seen in the names of Mersin’s districts. (e.g. Frenk Mahallesi=French district, Hristiyan Köyü Mahallesi=Christian village district.)
As a result of trade alliances with the Lebanon and Europe, the lifestyle in Mersin was very European. The different religions of the various groups of inhabitants was really only evident at funerals and marriages that took place. The different religious groups lived in total peace with one other.
Also at this time the French consulate moved from Tarsus to Mersin and with it went most of the Catholic population of Tarsus. With every passing day, Tarsus became less important and Mersin more so, and so in 1853 it was decided that a church should be built in Mersin. In May 1854 Peder Antonio moved from Tarsus to Mersin. Because of the rise in Catholic population Peder Antonio needed help, which came in the person of Peder Vincenzo. After this a small church and a boy’s school named “Saint Antoine College” were built.
Between 1854-58 the population of Mersin numbered 2000 people. 50 of whom were Latin-Catholics, 40 Maroons, 8 Chaldeans and 300 Armenian and Orthodox people.
In 1863 Peder Luigi replaced Peder Vincenzo. He also worked very hard, especially on behalf of the St. Antoine school.
Mersin was developing more and more and as a result of this, many European countries sent a consul there. In 1874 Peder Luigi bought some land which soon became the first Catholic cemetery of Mersin.
In 1890 there were 5240 Muslims, 2700 Orthodox people, 800 Armenians and 2600 Catholics in Mersin. Again at that time, Mersin had a mosque, 3 orthodox churches, an Armenian church, a catholic church and a maroon church; Some of which still exist today, others which were destroyed and some which have been converted from churches to mosques.

1914-2003
In 1914 with the beginning of WW I the Catholic school was closed. Italian and French men living in Mersin left to fight in the army and so, many French and Italian families were forced to leave Mersin.
After WW I Peder Edmond, who had gone to France during the war, returned to Mersin. The war had lessened the European ambiance that had been built up in Mersin in the pre-war years.  Its thriving economy as well as its international trading alliances were a thing of the past. And the number of Catholic inhabitants had greatly decreased.
In 1921 the Catholic school was re-opened. However when in 1923 the Turkish Republic was proclaimed, the school was once again closed. As well as this closure, all the other properties of the church were, bit by bit, taken over by the state. Only the church and the building in which the priests lived were left.
In 1939 Giuseppe Roncalli (later, Pope John XXIII) the delegate of the Vatican, decided that the Catholic churches of Antakya, Iskenderun, Adana, Tarsus and Mersin were to be considered as part of the Istanbul’s church rather than Halep’s.
In 1940 during WW II some refugees of differing nationalities came to Mersin where they lived for a period of time.
In 1953 Peder François Berard came to Mersin. He was the first priest to realise the importance of teaching religious education to children through Turkish, the mother tongue. As well as this, he also set up a Christian choir.
In 1963 Peder Pasquale came to Mersin as head of the Catholic church in Mersin. Peder François went to Antakya to supervise the building of Antakya’s church.
In 1973 a church-newspaper, “the voice of Mersin’s Christian Community” was published. In 1974 Peder Roberto Ferrari came to Mersin. He left again in 1975 and went to Antakya.
In 1991 at the Pope’s request, the church of Mersin became a cathedral and Ruggero Franceschini was appointed bishop.
Peder Roberto returned to Mersin in 1996 and became the parish priest. Peder Gregorio became parish priest in 1999 and was there for three years. After his departure from Mersin, Peder Roberto became parish priest again in 2002.
Todays Catholic Community in Mersin contains 6 different groups including Latin-Catholics, Maroon-Catholics and Armenian-Catholics.