Padre Stefano Negro who started his ministry duties in Izmir in 1976 and preached in the most densely populated Catholic neighbourhood of Alsancak and who was the priest in charge of the SS. Rosario Catholic Church died peacefully last night at 1 am on the 4th January 2017. This Dominican servant of God spent a full 40 years in İzmir and in addition was for a period the Izmir Latin Catholic Archbishop’s Vicar and the Chancellor.
I pen these lines as a person who spent his youth in the garden and sanctuary of the Alsancak Church, as a child of that church. The Alsancak Catholic Church congregation has always been the centre of the Izmir Christianity. With all its institution, its chaplains, its teachers, its choir and its weekly services it is the heart of the Izmir Catholic community. We were very sad when in 2013 the Alsancak Catholic Church lost its two Dominican ministers, padre Giulio Battola and the brother Paolo Ronco. Now the community has lost somebody who was relatively younger and its dynamic head Padre Stefano. Perhaps ‘lost’ is not the right word. He will no longer be in our lives but what he taught us ‘the eternal crown of Kingdom’ has now found him.
He was not an ‘ordinary’ Pastor for us. In the Catholic Church, to be the parish priest in the neighbourhood church means being next to that community in their saddest and happiest times, providing strength, spiritual guidance and comfort. He was the one when we wanted to repent for our sins that disturbed our consciences, he gave us the mystery of confession, baptized us, married us, gave the last sacraments of our near-dead relatives, officiated in our funerals, and comforted the grieving relatives.
I remember very well, my dear colleague, with whom I have worked with many years ago, who is now married and with a beautiful child, told me “Father Stefano baptized me and now I want him to marry me” and so it happened. He was the reference point for the many believers. Father Stefano’s presence was requested in the most painful as well as in the happiest days. Likewise, I have heard from some of my friends who have moved abroad who repeat the same words: “He baptized me and now I want him to marry me”. And they would return to the church where their parents were married, to İzmir Alsancak, and Father Stefano would admit them in to the institution of marriage.
I had the opportunity to spend a lot of time with him ... As youths of the İzmir community, we gathered at the Alsancak Church for many years. In addition to that, we took intensive theology lessons with Omar and Pietro for a while ... I left İzmir for work in 2008 and Omar continued to work with Father Stefano in church service. My dear friend Omar must be the one of the most distressed by Father Stefano’s emigration from this world ...
The many hours we spent with him, me and my friends would not just be given religious instruction. As a matter of fact, Christianity is not just a book religion, but also a vitalising cultural transfer. This transfer was like the raging waters of a river of life in Alsancak.
In addition to religious information, he would tell us about the history of İzmir, the great fire, the rebirth of İzmir post that calamity, the curiosity eliciting stories of the long-established Levantine businessmen I know in İzmir through the Italian Businessmen’s Association (Italian Chamber of Commerce) in the time of my first work experience from 18 to 20, in addition the inter-relationships, the localities, the Catholic traditions mixed with the Greek customs typical of İzmir and the stories of migration of the past. Today I am a history PhD student imbued with this curiosity which I owe to the inspiration I received from him. This same inspiration led me to the study of the diplomatic history of the Catholic Church and the subsequent publication of the book on this subject.
His funeral will take place on at the SS Rosario Catholic Church, 11 am, 7 January 2017.
May he rest in peace.
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